Our latest road trip included a visit to The Village where I wanted to run around shouting and being a bit grumpy (not much of a change from my usual mode really) but managed to remain calm and take hundreds of photos instead. Here are a few of the best ones, followed by a soundtrack of some of the accompanying trip music…
The Village (aka Portmeirion) as seen from up in the woods where we managed to escape to / hopped off the little train tour. So much lovely architecture!
Welcome to your village. The sun was out for the beginning of our exploration but the wind was rather fierce at times. I took dozens of photos of arches.
The village green, with its beautiful gardens. So much nicer than that messy area behind our house.
The green as seen from up near the dome.
Shops and cafes, formerly used as exteriors for various homes in The Prisoner.
Jamie and one of the many arches. This one is up near the shops.
On the beach, where Rover was nowhere to be seen. Bloody windy though!
Back up to the main village after beachy fun times.
Be seeing you.
Soundtrack time! Here are some of the new tunes making me do the approving nod:
David Bowie: The Next Day. The album is still on rotation in my ears and this new video has just been released. Suitably weird, pretentious and exciting:
Ronika: Rough n Soothe. The latest single, another smash:
Florrie: Live A Little. Florrie has never put a foot wrong, hopefully there will be a full album sometime soon:
Fitz and the Tantrums: More than Just A Dream. The title track from their second album which introduces some new styles but the band still rock:
The Cliks: Savanna. Another returning top band, album duly purchased once again:
Slow Knights: Shame and Sweet Harmony. The Del Marquis / Bright Light Bright Light and pals supergroup have made my favourite album of the year so far:
Little Boots: Motorway. The second album Nocturnes is here! Loving this:
For the last few years I’ve done little blogs about each new Doctor Who episode but since I’ve been busier and less inclined to waffle on here I’ve not done them. To make up for that I have left the house and taken some appropriately geeky photographs and done a round-up of New Who thoughts:
The five episode ‘Series 7 Part 1′ was underwhelming as it mostly didn’t have the magic that I love, the Ponds overstayed their welcome a little bit, the Dalek episode was great fun but seemed rushed (but love “eggggssss…”), the New York episode had more plot holes than Weeping Angels, I enjoyed the Christmas one and was not even drunk, ‘Series 7 Part 2′ has been good and Clara is what the series needs, I hope there are less dangly unresolved ideas this year as that kind of thing is starting to irritate me, can we just go back to basics please? OK. On with the images:
We stumbled across a familiar blue box...
I had to pose for a photo of course.
There were some strange noises nearby so I went for a look and was shocked...
The Dalek was getting on fabulously with the Cyberman, who was having an excellent time.
Strike a pose!
It's like Dimensions In Time all over again. With a Baby Dalek.
Preparing for the banner moment...
Happy birthday Dokkk - Torrrrr!
This was all in aid of the Generation to Generation Spring Fete at Christ Church, Barnet, to raise money for their Open Door Appeal to restore the building adjacent to the church into a community centre for older people.That building was where the TARDIS was. With all the Doctor Who-ness going on outside I hope they had the opportunity to make lots of money.
It could be said that I’m a bit obsessed with the work of Claudia Brucken…
That was some of my Brucken stash, dating all the way back to my years as a strange child. I finally saw her perform live last night after being a fan for almost 30 years (am I really that old?) and it was an excellent celebration of a fine catalogue of work. This tour is to promote the latest album the Lost Are Found which is a ‘dreaded covers project that’ is thankfully not a sign of running out of ideas, and songs from that were interspersed with a greatest hits selection taken from her previous release Combined. In other words, a perfect set list! Covers of mention included David Bowie’s Everyone Says Hi and Stina Nordenstam’s Memories of a Colour, mostly because they are songs that I bought by the original artists and are covered well. We had never been to the Borderline before and made the mistake of arriving too early so had a lot of standing around but we got a great view near the front and the achey legs / feet were only a temporary problem. The venue seemed to be 95% middle aged gay men which amused and fascinated me as I hadn’t realised the gay factor was quite so high with her fans but then I am a middle aged gay man so it makes sense. There’s probably an interesting study of music tastes and sexuality of fans somewhere but my media studies days are long behind me now despite finding this kind of thing worth pondering. Anyway…
Claudia was of course fantastic throughout and seemed to be having a thoroughly great time, and her band were impressive. Special mention for David Watson who excelled as co-lead vocalist on the Act songs Snobbery & Decay and Absolutely Immune, giving an energetic and entertaining performance. He shifted back into his other job of backing vocalist and occasional guitarist with a more subdued personality, getting it exactly right. The other Mr Watson (James Watson) provided several excellent guitar solos, including the one during the old Propaganda song Dream Within A Dream which handily gave most of the band time to nip backstage for a comfort break. As expected, we had the joy of seeing three Propaganda singles performed and Duel was the slightly obvious but always appreciated encore moment where the crowd went wild (and we clapped a little bit more than usual).
As well as the Act and Propaganda singles we also enjoyed the nineties solo single Kiss Like Ether, some onetwo singles and the newish songs from Combined: Thank You and Night School. A faultless performance!
We went out on Saturday night like what the young people do, or so I am told. Off to that North London for a gig in a pub in Camden Town via a series of trains and buses and footsteps, which at times was a bit stressful (obligatory bus nutter screaming at the bus driver because the replacement tube line bus was “not clearly labelled” despite being clearly labelled) but definitely worth it. What was it? It was Specks in the Sky, which is a night described on its Facebook page as this:
Not-for-profit music events promoter in London. We only book acts we love. We look after our artists and we look after our audiences.
That’s pretty simple and the evening was all about good music. I’ll plug the elements of that night as they deserve it…
DJ Sina played some tunes that were probably related to his All-Girl Pop Rock Indie Disco club night Debbie that I’ve never been to because I don’t like clubs. It sounds interesting though and he’s on Tumblr where you can see his great diary comics and pictures. Bonus points for playing Tori Amos’s cover of Ring My Bell which I had completely forgotten all about and now have to rummage through old CD-Rs to find.
Samantha Ashleigh Hayhurst can play the keyboard and sing and say “thank you” in at least three languages. Her music is on Soundcloud here and an example of it should appear below this sentence.
Ghost Carriage Phantoms are not as scary as their name suggests although I was concerned about how close I was to their glockenspiel. They did an acoustic set and kept swapping instruments between songs which kept it interesting, including the glockenspiel, two guitars, a small drum, a foot, some hanging jangly vibes-y things, a powerful male voice (whoah! ) and one of those hand-held mini keyboards that you blow into which I can never remember the name of. An odd fascinating musical experience that has led to me listening to their album that I bought just before I started typing this.
The final band of the night were The Melting Ice Caps who seem to be available in a series of limited editions. Past live versions have included Full Band, CD Walkman and Vocals (plus umbrella) and Acoustic Band. This time is was Three Piece With Occasional Flipchart. I’m a big fan and you may have noticed other blogs on this subject using words and phrases like “super singer songwriter” , “occasional indie disco” and “quite good” but the music speaks for itself so here’s some ‘speaking’:
New year and new format (for now): New exciting music plus new photographs of life.
We went to Kew over the holiday period and it was definitely worth the trip into Almost Suburbia. I’m not a big fan of plants but in a similar way to the old-fashioned Epping-Ongar train trip last year I found enough shapes and colours to keep me interested. The hothouse was most welcome in the bitter cold, not actually that hot inside but warm enough to remove the woolly hat. You can find out actual facts if you look at the Kew website.
David Bowie: Where Are We Now?
Dame David Bowie returned! The internet went a bit mad and it turned out that everyone was a massive Bowie fan. A band I had not heard of before (Velvet Stream) did an excellent cover of his new song and everyone was oh so happy about everything.
MKS aka The Real Sugababes were busy in the studio in 2012 and put an acapella clip up on YouTube recently. It was good. I lost track of who the current Sugababes are about three regenerations ago, to be honest, but I’m a big fan of Siobhan’s albums so looking forward to hearing some great modern pop.
January was Returns Month. Brett and co turned up with a new song that is not a single and an album coming soon. Barriers is rather nice and follows on from Mr Anderson’s last solo album which was a definite return to form. Hopefully the album will have some absurd rhyming couplets and a few AaaAAAh-a-hHooooahhhs.
Autoheart will be releasing their long-awaited album this year (honest. I think I said that this time last year) and Lent is an actual proper single except for not being on a shiny disc, quite soon. It will even have a remix by bright Light Bright Light.
Woman E: You Stole That Summer (Bright Light Bright Light remix)
Talking of Bright Light Bright Light, this is fun!
Tegan & Sara: Closer
I was never a big Tegan & Sara fan but their forthcoming album has been sprinkled with Greg Kurstin’s pop magic and what I’ve heard so far is a bunch of strong pop songs with sturdy writing plus hooks and tunes and that. Another one on pre-order.
Ghost Carriage Phantoms: Videotape
I heard about this band from the details of a gig we’re going to next week in Fancy London. I’m glad they sound interesting : indie rock but with added bells and whistles plus this song goes a bit Cloudbusting at the end.
Now: It may now be the future but albums still exist in this world of downloading individual tracks and all that. Lots of great songs this year where the album did not live up to it so I had to do a lot of brain time working out my Top Albums list. Here it is, with music and pictures:
The Irrepressibles: Nude. I found them via a package of remixes for a single from their debut album which was nice enough but this second album is a work of art…. almost literally in this case with all the imagery, videos and bonus bits. Some orchestral slowies, some faster electropop plus strings tracks and everything in-between. Beautiful! One of those albums that will get taken out and played for years to come.
Bright Light Bright Light: Make Me Believe In Hope. After a long lead time the album was released and it was everything the fans expected / wanted. Not a dud track on it and lots of extras like a vinyl edition, a remixes CD, some t-shirts (and a cassette that I cannot play!) and all sorts of other online bits and bobs. The quality is there so the quantity is a bonus. This album did well in a lot of end of year polls despite not having a massive commercial success which goes to show that the right music can get the attention.
Saint Etienne: Words and Music. A concept album about pop music that is one of the finest pop albums of recent years? Great idea. Perfect from start to finish, supported by an excellent live show and a tea towel. Saint Etienne never disappoint.
The Melting Ice Caps: Permissible Permutations. Another kind of concept album, from a man who, like Saint Etienne, never disappoints. The Melting Ice Caps are the best indie pop (and other things) one man band that you have not heard of and are hard to describe so how about “excellent songwriting with depth?”
No Doubt: Push and Shove. This comeback album apparently did pretty bad commercially and annoyed some of the older fans with its new sound. It has an extra layer of pop what with all those lovely synth riffs but I adored it as I go mad for a bit of anthemic synth and guitars pop. Maybe it’s the fault of classic era Duran for imprinting that on me. Anyway, it’s a marvellous upbeat pop album that still has a No Doubt feel to it.
Jessie Ware: Devotion. So much has been said about this album already and it’s everything That Emeli Bloody Sande album is not. Jessie Ware can do ‘sophisticated’ as well as uptempo and this long player may occasionally veer into slightly baffling youthful sounds but I can cope with a bit of that.
Frank Ocean: Channel Orange. I eventually investigated this one. Oh yes.
Twin Shadow: Confess. An unknown to me until I heard a track in our car, loved it, bought this album and then their debut too. Very good mixed bag of sounds that come together to make a strong set of tunes. Strong creative vision, a bit like the old days when people seemed to try harder, or am I just a grumpy oldie?
Niki & the Dove: Instinct. I missed out on the initial hype but found myself loving a song or two via bloggy pals and then bought the album which was a big success in my ears. They’re from Europe and have a great brand of slightly freaky synthpop so perfect for me.
Gaz Coombes Presents Here Come The Bombs. Easy to love this album as it’s Gaz From Supergrass and it’s great.
Foxy Shazam: The Church of Rock and Roll. Ridiculous overblown American rock anthem cliches all over the place and I like it. A lot.
Gigs of the year:
Fingersnap at Leicester Square Theatre on Valentine’s Day. Excellent music and banter, and I got my lurve dedication read out.
The Melting Ice Caps at that pub with the pint of chips with the CD Walkman.
Saint Etienne at the London Palladium. Music! Merchandise! Massive balloons!
Scritti Politti at Firestation in Windsor. Hypnotised.
All those lovely Jimmy Somerville reissues that included the first Bronski Beat album, both of the Communards ones and his first two solo releases.
Human League Dare/Fascination boxy thing, even though I had most of it already.
ZTT Reissues of all sorts of stuff from my childhood.
The four Everything But The Girl reissues because I never had them before and they were clearly made with love.
Sarah Cracknell’s album coming out in the Saint Etienne Deluxe format: lost semi-classic.
The Spiels & Autoheart : Northern Lad. Jody Gadsden and friends do one of my all time favourite Tori Amos songs and do it so very well.
Temper Trap: Love Is A Losing Game. From a cover mount CD with Q, this was a slightly raspy pleasant surprise.
Jonny Cola & the A-Grades: Ship Of Fools. I remembered how much I liked Jonny Cola and bought all their music. This cover is a joy!
Another year draws to a close and my annual plan to spend less money on music due to my ever-increasing old git status has failed as usual. I found that this year had a much higher proportion of reissues than before, due to the boom in deluxe pretty thing reissues in lovely packaging full of hard to find old songs. Nice. I also got into my charity shop record hunts in a big way and the wad of vinyl LPs is expanding across the room. Anyway, this blog post is concerned with the new stuff, specifically the tracks of the year. Albums to follow, along with some other odds and sods.
“We could have made it but we didn’t have the stamina, we both lost out in the end. “ Autoheart: Control. This track has been around for a while but its official release this year meant it sneaked back into my end of year review. Autoheart’s forthcoming album is my most eagerly awaited music of 2013 due to the quality of their songs which have appeared in the usual places on the internet. Melodic heartfelt pop is their strength and that’s something that I adore!
“Once a passion filled your eyes, left me speechless , satisfied. Now tonight all we have is this darkening sky.” Jimmy Somerville: Taken Away. Listening to this song led me to buy the EP it comes from, then his two other recent EPs and then his entire back catalogue. Jimmy Somerville is in an imperial phase right now but is not really in the limelight as much as he should be.
“It’s getting louder and louder and louder and louder and louder.” The Irrespressibles: Two Men In Love. This choice could have been their electropop + orchestra song Ship, narrowly beaten by the beautiful epic slow-build of a song that will not surprise you when I say it is about two men in love. The album is pretty amazing.
“From the outside, from the outside. Everyone must be wondering why we try.” Jessie Ware: Wildest Moments. One of those artists who was tipped for the top that actually did some tipping (in my ears)! This has soul, which is sorely lacking in a lot of modern pop music. Smooooooth but not too glossy, just right.
“Patiently, I’m waiting. For you to give up everything. And say just what you mean.” Twin Shadow: Patient. I discovered this song in our car via Jamie’s iPod, loved it, bought the album, played it a lot. I like it when that happens! Twin Shadow is one to watch, great song writing and performing, and the videos are also excellent. This one has dance routines!
“Tell me the truth boy, am I losing you for good.” Solange: Losing You. She’s back! She’s still amazing! Phew. This song is both old-fashioned and new/exciting. Funky heartbreak, oh yes.
“I’ll be your warrior.” Mark Foster, Kimbra and A-Trak: Warrior. An unexpected crossover episode! This single with Mark Foster from Foster The People gave Kimbra’s album a further push, which was nice. I may be too old to know who A-Trak is but this is a super energetic pop number with the kind of offbeat video you’d expect from Mr Foster.
“You’re the reason there’s still hope in my heart.” Bright Light Bright Light: Feel It. Inspired by Laura Palmer’s diary and cheesy 90s dance pop, and featuring a great big diva voice : how could I not love this? Great single from an excellent album. Well done that man Rod Thomas.
“Keep Both Hands Behind The Cutting Edge, nobody wants to see your fingertips, detached from your piano fingers… At least not yet.” The Melting Ice Caps: Keep Both Hands Behind The Cutting Edge. This song is superficially a series of health and safety warning signs but actually something cleverer, as I would expect from the mind of David Shah (Mr Ice Caps). Another recommended album there.
“And when the music stops …” Little Boots: Headphones (Ronika remix). Yes, a remix! This version is better than the original, a peculiar old school dance sound about a disco with weird pitch changes to Ms Boots’ voice to make it just marvellously different and a bit non-specific gender. Hard to explain. Now where’s the album?
“She’s working at the pyramid tonight.” Frank Ocean: Pyramids. This one is also rather odd, in a great way. It’s not quite hip hop and not quite R&B either. When I got this album it was a priority playlist on the iPod for ages and deserving of all the hype it got.
“To you it’s just the same old story. Another fairy tale made of faded glory.” David Morales and Roisin Murphy: Golden Era. This Murphy / Morales collaboration was a lovely surprise and it was everything I hoped for in such a project. A deep housey disco number with regret in the lyrics, should have been a big hit.
“Get lost, you’re dancing to the beat of a different drum .” Gossip: Get Lost. The album may have annoyed some of their older fans (in loyalty, not in years) but this Xenomania collaboration was the first Gossip album I loved enough to buy. I’m weird but the vibes were right and this track is the highlight of a great pop long-player.
“… the dead don’t go away, They made us what we are, they’re with us every day.” Pet Shop Boys: Leaving. I loved this track immediately and recently the lyrics make me a bit too sad, which is not really a bad thing for a song to do when I think about it. A mixed album but I would compare it to a good b-sides compilation and we do love our b-sides.
“That’s why, the carols make you cry. Joy.” Tracey Thorn: Joy. Another weepy happy song, one of the original compositions on Tracey Thorn’s excellent (more than just a) Christmas album.
“No one should settle for a maybe, I’ll get an answer for you soon.” Saint Etienne: Answer Song. So many lovely songs on their Words and Music album but I had to choose one. I’ll go for the sad romantic one every time!
“I’m ready to learn what it tastes to burn, I’m gonna let you show me what it means to breathe fire.” Niki & the Dove: Tomorrow. I found this Swedish duo via a blog and was captivated by their atmospheric brand of slightly freaky big electropop.
“Honey get your hands off those boys. Honey put your arms around me.” Bearcraft: Honey. Another one of Jamie’s favourite artists and this single was definitely their best work yet. Bearcraft have been quiet recently as Dicky Moore (Mr Craft) has been busy playing guitar for Scritti Politti but they’ll be back with an album of this melodic synthpop soon.
“Sad, so sad.” Elton John vs Pnau: Sad. Not actually all that sad, mostly very pleasant and melodic. I think “melodic” is becoming one of my words. As well as this Pnau collaboration via a remix project I also finally bought Elton’s discoey Thom Bell Sessions on CD but didn’t get the urge for any other albums.
“I’m always trying to tell you, I’ve got problems, That I can’t work out.” Gaz Coombes: White Noise. The return of The Artist Formerly Known As Gaz From Supergrass was a big success for me and this track in particular showed him in fine form.
Next time: Albums of the Year, maybe some Gigs and Covers. The version type, not the images on the front of records although I do like those too.
Remember when dance music went pop and got in the charts and the popular tunes kept being revealed as vocal frauds? Well I say “revealed” but it was usually not that secret due to failed lip synching exams. Anyway : Black Box! After annoying Loleatta Holloway by nicking her acapella of Love Sensation, chopping it up over some plinky plonky house music and giving it a grammar error for a title they hired Martha Wash to do a bit of singing which ended up going into their own black box to help make a full album. Here’s an example:
Hmmm… I won’t slag off the hit singles (apart from their awful cover of Fantasy) as I loved them at the time, bought them all and eventually threw them away in a house move and then bought them again on CD because I’m like that… and they’re damn fine pop dance. I always wanted Martha Wash to perform them live as it would be interesting to see how she coped with the stuttering cut & paste aspects and thanks to YouTube I found an example of the very same song as I posted above:
That was fun, wasn’t it?
We never talk about the re-recorded Ride On Time with Heather Small vocals, though. Oh no.
Bonus news footage! Poor Martha:
Scritti Politti played in Windsor last night so we spent an hour and a half on a series of motorways (and only 25 minutes to get home) and visited The Firestation. It would not be a shock to reveal that the venue used to be a fire station, would it? It’s rather nice and I found myself sipping a refreshing lager beer on a Friday evening like it was the nineteen nineties again, waiting for all the fun to begin. After a late start we found our way up to the seated area with other young old gits and sat watching the young folk down on the ground standing still except for the Top of the Pops Corner which consisted of a lady and a flamboyant man who pulled some shapes during the more up-tempo numbers.
What was it like? Well…
The band need explaining as it’s a complicated list of people I’m vaguely familiar with:
Firstly we have the man who is Scritti: The Marvellous Green Gartside who did a little introductory speech for most of the songs in the Scritti Politti Songbook before switching his voice into that special warm soulful sound that doesn’t seem quite real but definitely is. Green had a cough but this didn’t appear to affect him at all and I was hypnotised by his performance of so many songs that I’ve loved for so long.
Rhodri Marsden was on keyboards and programming with a guitar for one song (Umm) and I recognised him from Dream Themes who we’ve seen live before. If you ever need a band who perform charming versions of old TV themes then they’re your men. If you’re interested in the programming of these live versions of the songs I can recommend the interview here which includes this: “what often happens is that I create a MIDI file with all the parts as I THINK they are. Green then works through it and corrects any mistakes I’ve made, and then creates / chooses all the sounds for the parts on his Mac. So by the end of that process we have a recreated Scritti song in Logic Pro which we then use to work from.” Now you know.
Dicky Moore played guitar and we know him better as Bearcraft whose Honey single from last year was on my Annual Big List Of Good Stuff. you’ll like it, honest. Here it is:
Hot Chip’s Rob Smoughton aka Grovesnor played drums and some electronic elements from what I could work out. Great band and even though the sound system was “a couple of hi-fi speakers” according to Green the performance was top notch and a great teaser for a big full tour next month. They’re doing gigs with Saint Etienne who we’ve already seen this year, what are the chances of that happening?
Seeing the cream of the song book performed live, which is something I never thought I would see/hear. Absolute, The Word Girl, Wood Beez, The Sweetest Girl , Umm, Die ALone, Brushed With Oil and many more.
Green deciding to be a middle aged white man doing rapping on several songs from the Anomie & Bonhomie album. He was pretty good.
The bit on Die Alone where Green did the Meshell N’DegeOcello bits in a deep voice then quickly carrying on with his regular lines in his usual singing voice.
Their performance of A Day Late and a Dollar Short: one of my favourite new tracks and done in a very energetic way.
One new song which I don’t know the name of. No news on a new full album but can be patient.
Here’s a musical taster for the different ages of Scritti Politti:
If it’s not already sold out here’s a link for next month’s Saint Etienne / Scritti Politti tour: click!