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Keeping it Peel: Remembering John, a decade on

25 Oct

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Today – Saturday 25th October – marks the tenth anniversary of the day we lost John Peel, who, in the days before 6Music, Spotify, Soundcloud, Mixcloud, YouTube and a myriad of music blogs from the shinily corporate to the shoddily pirate, showed the discerning music enthusiast a planet of sound quite often far removed from that on the daytime airwaves but also one that often was a window onto future popular taste.

Although eclectic radio shows are now another genre on yr TuneIn app, Peel almost invented the concept, with the aim of introducing the curious listener to new artists, bands and genres outside the traditional comfort zone. Similarly, Peel would seemingly be constantly reinventing the content of his shows: discarding prog rock for punk rock, snubbing indie guitars for dubstep and drum ‘n’ bass, irking the purists with his ambivalence towards The Stone Roses and Springsteen and his love of happy hardcore. Whilst apologising for being a slightly podgy middle-aged man who sometimes let studio technology get the better of him.

Like his beloved Fall, always different, always the same.

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Many forget that Peel – in his later years and Home Truths days often considered The Greatest Living Englishman or something of a National Treasure – was actually quite a man of the world. As well as his celebrated night time Radio One programme, he also recorded programmes specifically made for German, Finnish, Austrian and Dutch audiences while additionally recording for Armed Forces network BFBS and also for the BBC World Service. He also cut his broadcasting teeth on KLIF, KOMA and KMEN in the US, the latter of which – despite sounding like a superhero legion or a niche magazine – was actually a radio station in San Bernardino, Californ-i-a. And as well as being broadcasted in various areas of the globe, Peel also played music from bands with unpronounceable names from Zimbabwe, China, Japan, Belgium and Wales.

He even played a Hindi cover of an ABBA song, which combined his love of songs in foreign tongues with his love of Eurovision.

With such a global reach, it may come as no surprise that there are pockets of Peel-respecting indiedom in places such as Yogyakarta, Indonesia or Chonburi province, Thailand.

Here he is a little closer to home, in Germany, in a TV special called John Peel’s Autobahn Blues, where he drives his ageing Merc between various German cities, visiting record shops, radio stations and even meeting up with Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle.




Out in the US Peel does have a vague cult following – having “broken” some American artists that could have stayed on the fringes of parochial sub-stardom if not for the exposure garnered by a few plays or indeed a session on his show, Nirvana and The White Stripes being just two better-known examples. This special – for “Big Apple” station WNYC – attempts to introduce the John Peel Archive as the hoardings of “Britain’s Supercollector”, with Tom from the Archive itself and Sheila (Ravenscroft – “The Pig”) on the blower and Lee Ranaldo out of Sonic Youth on hand to reminisce over recording various Peel Sessions.

* John Peel’s Record Collection on WNYC (2012) (stream or download)

Further afield, as well as the World Service programmes, Peel disciples got a treat when the man himdself turned up at an Auckland radio station when on holiday in those parts in 2002. New Zealand music, most notably The Go-Betweens and The Chills, had been given an international boost by Peel’s patronage, and luckily one listener taped the whole thing for posterity.

Our hero even got to visit Russia in the dying days of the Soviet Union to reveal the local music scene to be somewhat more than balalaikas and mulleted Deep Purple impersonators. The result was recorded for Radio One, and is now a fascinating document of Russian music culture before Putin and Pussy Riot.

* John Peel’s Russia (download only)

John’s linguistic prowess was – by his own admission – not impressive, but he usually made an effort to pronounce the names of at least the European bands and their non-English song titles that arrived on a variety of formats at Broadcasting House. German seems to be his most convincing attempt, oddly the same as Mark E. Smith of The Fall who claimed he himself learnt some rudimentary German in order to make sure the band got paid during his many tours of the country. It was a while before John discovered the meaning of Yo La Tengo, although that was only because Andy Kershaw, who apparently boasts a Spanish A-Level, told him.

Nonetheless, he often joked that his popularity in Holland came from the fact that the name Peel is a homophone for the male appendage in Dutch.

Additionally he regretted not being able to speak or understand Welsh, despite having a soft spot for Welsh-speaking bands such as Melys, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Ahnreven  Anghreven Anngrvhin Gryff Rhys.

Japanese acts were also popular at Peel Acres, with John playing music by Cornelius, Shonen Knife, Melt-Banana and Polysics, as well as the inimitable Frank Chickens (who actually got a TV SHOW out of being Peel favourites, here’s an episode with Frank Sidebottom AND John Cooper Clarke .

* Frank Chickens Peel Session (download only)

Regrettably, it was a foreign trip to Peru that was robbed us all of the great man’s talents forever ten years ago to this very day, but thankfully we have the tapes, the uploads, YouTube, the Peel Wiki, The John Peel Archive  and Keeping It Peel to help us remember… along with a plethora of tweeters, bloggers and specialist radio stations.

And finally, here’s a smattering of the truly international world service provided by Mr. John Peel, yours to take away (apart from the video, obvs):

Firstly, the authentic Cold War Radio experience replicated, a Russian shortwave recording of a 1987 BBC World Service broadcast cassette, with godawful reception, bits edited out and everything:

* John Peel Show on BFBS Forces Radio (mysteriously undated)

* Peel on Rock Radio, Finland (1987)

* John Peel on Radio Mafia, Finland (1991) [may contain festive references]

* John Peel on Radio Eins, Germany (2003)

* Peel Tribute, Bayern Radio 2, Germany (2014)

Gone, but not forgotten.

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Lou Reed: Sunday Morning After the Sunday Mourning Before

3 Nov

It was Kim Gordon who told me that Lou Reed had died, I swear.

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I turned on Twitter and there it was.

The words “So sorry to hear of Lou Reed s passing this is a huge shock!” from the blue-tick @kimletgordon account suggested this was not another of these tiresome internet death hoaxes but actually something very real. Why would the Sonic Youth (and now Body / Head) songsmith and latterday queen of NYC cool fall for such a dumb stunt if it were merely that? Indeed, Ms. Gordon went on to write a whole magazine article here in memory of the man she called “the first real anti-hero in rock”.

Lou Reed was one of these old gnarled, grumpy anti-heroes who you probably presumed would go on living forever, despite having smoked, sniffed, snorted and injected all manner of illicit substances for years (despite being “clean” for a fair few years) washed down, one would imagine, by plentiful quantities of liquor and strong coffee.

Not unlike Keef, Iggy, David or Julian, the craggy face of Lou Reed in his latter years seemed to be like one of those old trees standing strong in the middle of a storm, having absorbed years of battering from the “elements”. But in the end he died at the age of 71 – hardly a rock ‘n’ roll casualty – but still younger than my mum is now. And despite some pathetic tabloids trying to paint him as a poster boy victim of drug abuse he had been “on the wagon” for a fair while.

There is really no need for me to sum up Lou Reed or The Velvet Underground as most of you reading who are fans will know the backstory already while those who have a merely cursory interest in the fellow will have probably gleaned the relevant information in the many obituaries that were written after his demise.

You will already know that his parents sent him for electro-shock therapy at the age of 17 to “cure” him of his burgeoning, “worrying” homosexuality, that he was part of Andy Warhol’s “Factory” and got Andy to paint a cheeky banana on the cover of his band’s debut album, that he was a good mate of David Bowie and Iggy Pop (and later championed Antony Hegarty of “and-the-Johnsons” fame), probably took hard drugs and certainly wrote songs about it and hated giving interviews. We all know that John Peel championed The Velvet Underground in their early days because that’s what he did with most culturally important artists.

The fact that his most instantly recognised worldwide hit was about a series of transvestites and / or transexuals and contained a line about “giving head” is to the man’s eternal credit.

It took me YEARS to twig the innuendo in the album title of “Transformer”, which I’d always naívely presumed was some electrical power reference.

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To be frank, of the man’s relatively ample catalogue, I only own four physical albums of his, although others have resided on my hard-drive for some time, a few extrapolated “for personal use” from record library borrowings.

And yet it is probably in the influence of The Velvet Underground that many of the favourite bands of my teenage self in the 80’s that casts the longest shadow over my music collection.

Of my youthful “holy trinity” of The Smiths, New Order and The Cure, Morrissey has covered Satellite of Love, New Order covered Sister Ray (which they also did as Joy Division) and also performed Do The Ostrich pre-VU Lou band The Primitives (not Tracy Tracy’s band, more on THEM later), while there are photos of Robert Smith with Lou Reed and no doubt Cure performances of Velvet Underground material circulate beyond the realms of YouTube.

It was also through cover versions that I first came into contact with A LOT of Velvet Underground material that I probably didn’t know was actually by them in the first place at the time. Probably because I didn’t purchase “The Velvet Underground and Nico” until decades later, to my eternal shame. Like this wonderful Strawberry Switchblade version of Sunday Morning, probably the first of these aural delights (which you’ve already guessed I am going to catalogue):

Everyone from Ian McCulloch to Siouxsie to Japan to The Wedding Present to Ride to Nirvana to Bryan Ferry and back covered VU songs, and you could probably get a couple of complete compilations of “The Velvet Underground and Nico” with each track covered by a different artist, gleaned from a plethora of B-sides, album tracks, live recording and even the odd single.

Beck even covered the whole damn album.

The Cowboy Junkies‘ beautiful rendition of Sweet Jane is another case in point:

Could the glorious noise of The Jesus and Mary Chain have sounded quite the same without the sonic innovation of Reed, Cale, Tucker, Morrison and sometimes Yule? Although other bands have had a notable influence on UK indie and US “college rock”, I’d wager few would have had the impact on teenage ears if they themselves hadn’t been exposed to The Velvet Underground. Of course Gram and Neil and John and Paul and Alex and Jonathan and all the girl groups also left their mark, but Lou and his bandmates left a bloody great boot print.

Coventry’s recently-reformed Primitives not only nicked their monicker from Lou Reed’s pre- Velvets garage band incarnation (I may have mentioned them earlier) but also introduced my younger self to I’ll Be Your Mirror, another b-side.

As Brian Eno said, “The Velvet Underground and Nico” only sold 30,000 copies when it came out, but everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band“.

Even in his post-Velvets solo career, Lou Reed still attracted many a fine cover version.

The House of Love covered I Can’t Stand It to great effect:

Away from the world of indie, Reed’s oeuvre both with and without the Velvet Underground has also been keen sampling fodder.

A Tribe Called Quest‘s lift of a snatch of  Walk on the Wild Side for their breakthrough radio hit Can I Kick It? is probably the most well-known (the entire track is credited to “L.Reed” alone), but Massive Attack, RZA (him out of the Wu-Tang Clan), Del The Funkee Homosapien, LCD Soundsystem and even Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch have sampled Lou Reed’s compositions.

Further afield Japanese artists Pizzicato Five, Takako Minekawa and Kahimi Karie all sampled THE SAME Lou Reed song.

It wasn’t anything off “Metal Machine Music” either.

The most curious Lou Reed sampling though has to come from Norman “Fatboy Slim” Cook, who managed to match Lou Reed with his future wife Laurie Anderson on a 1990 b-side, a full 18 years before they married in 2008.

For me personally, post-Velvet Underground Lou Reed had its highlights in “New York“: the man’s tribute to the city he loved with all its dirt and crime and seediness (and to his friend the wheelchair-bound songwriter Doc Pomus) and his reunion album with John Cale “Songs For Drella“: a two-man warts-and-all tribute to their late mentor Andy Warhol.

Here’s the whole concert-film-recording thing of “Songs For Drella”, a tremendous record.

I hear “Magic and Loss” is another highlight, but embarrassingly, I’ve yet to hear that in full.

One for the Christmas wishlist there.

So long Lou, and thanks for inventing indie along the way.

Oh, and as we started with Lou Reed subtitled in Spanish, here’s my favourite cover of Walk On The Wild Side, which just happens to be in Spanish as well,

 Courtesy of Albert Plà:

Keeping it Peel, nine years on (with Boards of Canada in session)

24 Oct

john peel in a boat

Nine years after the man who taught so many of us the importance of opening our ears to “different” music – music often far removed from  the mundane daytime fare of the popular airwaves – left us without an appointed heir, we at We All That Towers (okay, I’ll “fess up”, it’s only me) are still keeping it Peel.

I won’t go on about the artists who became celebrated international recording talents of note or cult heroes to a bedroom army of home-tapers or EVEN about those genres which went from underground to overground (not the Wombles, get a grip!) years after John expressed a preference, mainly because I’ve done that before.

Around this time.

And often.

But as we show our annual respects and doff our collective music-lover’s caps at the church of Peel, (a lot of which is handily frozen in time at the splendiferous John Peel Achive at The Space) are we actually keeping the spirit of the great man alive?

One of John Peel’s unique gifts was his enthusiasm for any untapped vein of music or his notion that hidden somewhere on a poorly recorded demo tape was the next Duane Eddy or whoever. New music is out there, and in my next post I am going to patronisingly explain how to find it to those of you who, like my weary self, feel that they are losing their edge in a James Murphy-like way.

Just as all those years ago, business types had typists or secretaries who would do a lot of the tiresome stuff like booking hotel rooms or typing up documents freeing up more valuable time to play golf, nine years ago (and before, obviously) we had John Peel to steer us through the mire of alternative music in its various forms and select the good stuff for our eclectic ears’ delight. And just as in the modern office of today only the creme de la creme of corporate top management are afforded the luxury of a personal secretary or PA, while most rank and file office bods have to do the typing and so on themselves. Without external help.

And with one finger if necessary ( * coughs *).

Surely the best way to pay tribute to the John Peel is to discover some quality new music and spread the good word, as he himself dedicated his working life to doing?

Do it yourself?

Wasn’t that the essence of punk, or post-punk, or C86 or whatever?

As the clip below shows, even when nominally kow-towing to his Radio One paymasters, Peel could still worm in a cheeky plug for his favourite Salford band the way that no-one else would have the audacity to do.

Yet the day does provide us with an opportunity to look back and celebrate all manner of great music from skiffle to happy hardcore and back again. Keeping-it-Peel-the-website will be doing this all day, and they, I and various like-minded Peel disciples will be tweeting at you over the next 24 hours with links to session tracks, tribute shows, TV specials, articles and whatnot. I’ve been “ordered” not to mention The Fall – presumably to show this is a “special day” unlike all the other days I tweet about the “mighty” Fall (Peel’s coinage, naturally) – but I can’t promise you that.

But I will leave you with a rather splendid end-of-an-era show where John had Boards of Canada in for a session.

Years before talk of “hauntology” or limited promos hidden in record shops around the world.

Enjoy it, and if you do the Twitter thang, be sure to hashtag your Peel memories or links with a #keepingitpeel hashtag-thing.

And here is the master, at work, fifteen years ago:

John Peel Show, with Boards of Canada in session, 1998

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Tomorrow is the day we’re Keeping it Peel

24 Oct

 

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You know what to do.

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Bowie is Back: The return of the Thin White Jukebox

1 Mar

Well, today, the first of March, is Saint David’s Day, and it seems that this merry month of March 2013 has been unofficially dubbed Bowie Month, as the elder statesman of chameleonic pop (or rock, or blue-eyed-soul, or glam, or whatever), the gentleman known to Smash Hits readers as “the Dame” is officially back with a new album housed in the most controversial Bowie cover art since a canine male member graced his inside leg on the gatefold sleeve of Diamond Dogs in 1974.

Bowie’s unannounced return to the radio waves with new material (a paltry TEN YEARS, less than half the time it took Kevin, Bilinda and the other two to deliver the third “proper” My Bloody Valentine album) was even more surprising considering that it had been generally considered that the artist formerly known as Ziggy Stardust had discreetly retired from rock and roll to be a doting dad to his  second child and basically to chill out following a heath scare (and… er…  a lollipop in the eye). Rumours even floated around cyberspace that Bowie had cancer or was wasting away, victim of some unutterable lurgy.

Where Are We Now? was thus a bolt from the blue, a slice of unexpectedly elegant nostalgia that surfaced – totally unannounced – on the man’s 66th birthday. Many of us old enough to remember when vinyl was the main “physical support” for all music (rather than being the preserve of hipsters, djs or audiophiles) were then transported back to an impeccable run of albums and characters from the close of the 60s to the early 80s, conveniently blocking out all memory of diabolical duets with Tina Turner or Mick Jagger, never mind Tin Machine.

Most unfortunate for Brett Anderson – once chided for aping early Bowie vocal delivery – that the day chosen for Suede’s announcement of their reformation and return from an equally long hiatus unintentionally coincided with that of the return of Bowie himself. Ouch.

bowie chameleon

David Bowie’s back-story is pretty much common knowledge to anyone with a passing knowledge of music in the last 50 years. He changed his surname to Bowie because he didn’t want to be confused with one of The Monkees, his missus caught him in bed with Mick Jagger and John Peel told him to drop the miming spiel. He “invented” glam rock,  penned some of the finest songs in music history and once lived on a diet of milk, peppers and DRUGS. He named his son Zowie Bowie (the lad later became known as Duncan Jones, the film bloke), he shared a flat with Iggy Pop in Berlin (where he moved in a rather hopeless attempt to stem his substance addiction) and his career went downhill rapidly when he got his teeth fixed. But despite that consistent run of groundbreaking albums in the 1970s he only clocked his first solo number one single with the 1983 hit Let’s Dance. As any fool know.

Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Thin White Duke, Pierrot, Young American, spikey-haired-goatee-bearded junglist… Bowie has had slightly fewer characters than the typical Frank Ocean tweet. And then there was Tin Machine.

But let’s not go there.

Today a stream of “The Next Day” has been unveiled for the world’s aural delight, while a few days ago a cannily casted video featuring Tilda Swinton alongside Bowie set the internet alight with tweets that the previous video had really been rather lacklustre and links to the Tilda Stardust tumblr page which may just have inspired the aforementioned canny casting. As with the My Bloody valentine album I am lazily going to pass the baton to the more polished wordsmiths in the employ of  The Quietus and The Guardian Music Weekly to review it, while we concern ourselves with curious Bowie reworkings, as if stocking a virtual Wurlitzer with bizarre promotional and semi-legal re-treads of his finest hours (see what I did there) , past and present.

And so. let us unveil…

THE THIN WHITE JUKEBOX!!

One of the first (cough) semi-legal Bowie remixes I encountered online that impressed me more than a bit was a fine cosmic take on Space Oddity, the song that really catapulted the former David Jones into the consciousness of the British record-buying public when it was used to accompany BBC reports on the moon landings in 1969.

At remix controls is Appo, a Middlesborough native who – it says here – has worked with the likes of Danny Rampling, Pete Tong, Graham Park and other turntable luminaries from the acid-infused 90s, and the balearic edge of his chilled re-work is testament to that

I would have added a link to Appo’s site, but it appears to be infected with a virus. Which is a shame.

Anyway, enjoy the choon:

Atlanta’s DJBC, veteran patron of the genre-defining Get Your Bootleg On (or GYBO to its pals) internet fraternity, managed – with other like-minded bootleggers such as SF’s Bootie collective – to produce an entire “mash-up” album of the “Ziggy Stardust” LP, and stick it up on the internets for no money. Click on the link and find out!

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Fritz von Runte (sadly not a Berliner, but a Manc who has worked with Peter Hook’s ill-starred vanity project Freebass, among other things) has also created his own album of Bowie reworks – spanning most of his career – entitled Bowie2001. Not only has he created an album’s worth of stuff, but there’s a DVD too as the whole project is inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, which has now passed was once the future and predicted the internet which brings this whole journey full circle. Or something. Read more here, where you can sign up for a free download of the album, or even purchase the DVD. In case you didn’t twig, what’s being done here is Space Oddity  is being melded with “A Space Odyssey”. Right.

Oh, and there’s also one mix which makes the latter-day Bowie sound like Antony on that Hercules and Love Affair track Blind. This isn’t it though.

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Go Home Productions (Mark Vidler to his doctor) is best known to bootleg (or “mash-up”) aficionados for being “there” when the genre was fresh… and for making classic couplings of other people’s records, the Sex Pistols vs Madonna “boot” Ray Of Gob, being a prime example (which apparently met with the approval of both Steve Jones and Madge herself). Bowie was also impressed with GHP’s “skillz”, as he commissioned him to do a mix of Rebel Rebel with his “Reality”- era single Never Get Old called (true to old skool bootlegger track nomenclature) Rebel Never Get Old.

GHP also “mashed” the Dame’s I’m Afraid of Americans with his beloved XTC (and later went on to work with Andy Partridge), but for now lend your ears to this splendid remix of Fame:

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Jeremy Sole is a “roots” DJ (whatever that is) on Santa Monica radio station KCRW. Bowie liked his remix of Golden Years so much he officially sanctioned it for release to promote the “Station To Station” box set thing.

Not hard to see why, as it’s a fairly tasteful re-rub:

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Chicago’s TR34TM3NT (obviously a one-time 5IVE fan) wasted no time in putting out this trippy, almost post-dubstep mix of bolt-from-the-blue return from oblivion single Where Are We Now?

With no officially sanctioned 12″ mix, this makes for a fine substitute:

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The Pinker Tones are a jaunty Barcelona-based duo / trio (in a twee-pop-meets-Shibuya-kei vein) who have remixed Pizzicato Five, among others.

Here’s their mix of number two single off the new LP – The Stars Are Out Tonight:

Happy Saint David’s Day, everyone, Welsh and otherwise!

The We Love All That Favourite 50: our Best Albums of 2012

22 Dec

It’s hardly the Festive Fifty. The hipsters at Pitchfork and Stereogum needn’t be worried. The indier-than-thou bloggers can sleep easy, knowing that I probably haven’t stolen a march on them and unearthed the coolest LP of the year that you never read about before… BUT…

This inaugural year-end best of is probably a melange of the obvious, the not-so obvious and the odd curveball extrapolated from many of the music blogs, podcasts, Mixclouders, Soundclouders, happy Bandcampers and Twitterers (tweeters? tweeps?) I have drained of bandwidth over the past 12 months or so. While trying to avoid the influence of the popular pages’ picks of the past year (try saying that with a mouthful of sausage and egg McMuffin) some did catch my eye and remind me of a few albums I’d not heard.

Nonetheless a handful of quite possibly inclusion-worthy releases registered too late on my not-as-sharp-as-it-once-was musical radar – Swans, Actress and a handful of rappers-who-might-just-be-swearing-and-bigging-up-their-own-love-lives-a-tad-too-much-over-the-course-of-their-album-even-though-musically-and-“flow-wise”-they-may-be-pretty-spot-on (yer A$AP Rockys, yer Kendrick Lamarrs etc) missed the cut for.. er… those very reasons. Just as Neil Young failed to ratchet up a higher position for the perfectly acceptable “Psychedelic Pill” due to rather trying lyrics on Ontario, and Lana del Rey missed the boat completely – despite a year of stonking remixes – simply because those bloody lips annoy me and the hype has sadly outshone the music. Azealia Banks (who is the exception that proves my self imposed-rule on excessive gratuitous swearing spoiling records) misses out because she only released a 4-track ep and a mixtape this year, while the top Japanese chillwave Bandcampers LLLL are omitted on a technicality that a four or five track ep (or a couple thereof) still isn’t a proper album. Cornelius‘ top remixed-by-his-good-self album “CM4” (his fourth collection of unique remixes for other people) was excluded as it’s really a compilation album, while salyu X salyu’s album “S(o)un(d)beams” came out in 2011. Oh damn, and I missed Cat Power. Bah. Too late now, sorry Chan. And Beak > and that other Geoff Barrow project which was most certainly double top. And John Foxx and The Maths, that was an ace album that just slipped my mind and I cant see how to shoehorn it in.  Botheration. Oh, blimey… Dinosaur Jr.‘s “I Bet On Sky”!! How could I forget that!?! And… what? Gaz Coombes had an album out?

So… are we going to do this in reverse order stylee?

THE FAVOURITE FIFTY 2012 –

OUR BEST ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

50. ON THE HOT DOG STREETS – Go-Kart Mozart

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Lawrence attempts a take over and reveals his preferences and pecadilloes, backed by what could be a synth ditched by Ted Chippington’s band. A very English album, without going anywhere near EDL territory. Or Morrissey territory for that matter.

49. ILL MANORS – Plan B

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A move away from his male-Winehouse chart-busting success, Uncle Ben tells a harrowing tale of Broken Britain, even though – as he reminds us – there’s no such thing as Broken Britain. Not an easy listen, but a well crafted concept album. Prodigy mix was a corker.

48. THE CHERRY THING – Neneh Cherry and The Thing

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Neneh Cherry drops the Buffalo Stance for some free jazz with Bristol’s The Thing. Wigs out in places.

47. ONE DAY I’M GOING TO SOAR – Dexy’s

DEXYS - one day I'm going to soar

Kevin’s put the dress and suspenders away for a new set of clothes. Just as well really. He too, has got a “wiggle“.

46. THE ORBSERVER IN THE STAR HOUSE – The Orb & Lee “Scratch” Perry

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The Orb are a perfect foil for Perry’s mad dub-crazed meanderings, but their respect for him can let get the better of them when he really starts to wander. Golden Clouds is a brilliant re – work of the old 90s favourite though, and worth the price of an illicit download alone.

45. THE LOST ARE FOUND – Claudia Brücken

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Ex-Propaganda fraulein bangs out eclectic selection of covers including ELO, Bowie, The Band and Pet Shop Boys (though not the obvious ones). The voice is what makes the package shine, along with a pleasantly chilled orchestration.

44. IS YOUR LOVE BIG ENOUGH? – Lianne La Havas

is-your-love-big-enough LIANNE LA HAVAS

There was a great One Two Inch Punch remix of one of these tracks, and Mary Anne Hobbs loves this to bits, which can’t be bad. Maybe a bit mainstream for some, but pushes buttons for me. Just hope she avoids the Tasmin Archer syndrome! Still can’t work out if the double entendre in the title is deliberate or not.

43. PSYCHEDELIC PILL – Neil Young and Crazy Horse

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This marvellous album sounds as if it was recorded in the 70s, which considering it’s Neil Young is a compliment more than a put down! Crazy Horse haven’t aged at all, but – as I said before – lyrics to Ontario are a little (ahem) “shakey”. The mention of psychedelia also reminds me I’ve also forgotten Richard Hawley’s album. Sorry, Richard.

42. TRAMP – Sharon Van Etten

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Being a female singer songwriter the old comparisons get trotted out with this one, but this album is definitely worth a listen. All I Can is a fantastic anthem, despite mentioning “Old Tokyo” quite randomly.

41. MOST OF MY HEROES STILL DON’T APPEAR ON NO STAMP – Public Enemy

PE2012-MostOfMyHeroesStillDontAppearOnNoStamp

Yeah boyeee! Chuck D, Flavor Flav and the rest wormed their way back into the British public’s general consciousness via the Paralympics, an inspired TV trailer and a five-year-old track that isn’t on this album. It’s no “Nation Of Millions” but this Fight The Power-inspired album shows this ageing crew of hip hop pioneers are still relevant in 2012.

40. TOY – Toy

TOY THE ALBUM

It’s feedback. And you can’t beat a bit of feedback, can you?

39. SHIELDS – Grizzly Bear

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Good to listen to late at night with a glass of 12-year-old whisky. Odd flashes of melancholy, occasional shoegazey splashes, even infrequent Billy Bragg chords. Just don’t try to dance to it.

38. FIN – John Talabot

John-Talabot

The Barcelona-based producer’s first album turns in some solid tracks of an electronic variety. Strangely for someone who pinched his moniker from what was possibly his old school, his music sounds anything but. A Catalan Flying Lotus? Oh damn, that’s someone else whose fine album I’ve left out. There’s a remix album out of this as well.

37. PIRAMIDA – Efterklang

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Efterklang is Danish for “remembrance”, but also “reverberation”. Fourth album “Piramida” is (say reviews) “hymnal”, and built around  simple rhythms.  John Grant likes ’em.

36. THE BELBURY TALES – Belbury Poly

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Most recordings on the excellent Ghost Box label evoke a world of haunted English villages, 1970s tv interludes and Open University broadcasts, enhanced by the beautiful Pelican Books-style sleeve art. And the Radiophonic Workshop. Sort of like modern electronic folk. But in a definitely retro dimension. Belbury Poly’s latest is no exception.

35. SLEEP GAMES – Pye Corner Audio

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More of the same as this too is a Ghost Box release, but (as John Peel used to say) this one fades in. For those of us who grew up with short wave radio, public information films and black and white TVs. And for those who didn’t but are curious to know what it sounded like.

34. BASTARDS – Björk

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Reworkings of her criminally under-bought “Biophilia” interactive album / app / concept thing from last year. Puff Daddy may claim he invented the remix (which is bollocks as Wikipedia says Tom Moulton invented the remix), but Björk re-invented the remix (remember her first remix album), and the blinding Omar Souleyman re-tread of Crystalline which opens the collection justifies the whole package sevenfold.

33. HAIR – Ty Segall & White Fence

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Letterman-approved noise-merchant Ty Segall released three full-length albums this year, which puts him up there with Prince and Ryan Adams in the “jolly prolific” stakes. This was my favourite of the three. The sleeve art is far better than that of “Slaughterhouse” which looked like it had been done by someone’s brother. On acid.

32. LUCIFER / LUCIFER IN DUB – Peaking Lights

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Peaking Lights are a husband and wife duo from Wisconsin (home of Yon Yonson, Dave Howard Singers fans). “Lucifer” is a trippy, dubby affair not unlike the woozier bits of Primal Scream’s “Screamadelica”, featuring the vocal contribution of their own sprog (who is, disappointingly, not called Lucifer, or even Damien) . “Lucifer In Dub” takes the trippy, dubby bit one stage further (hence the name), not unlike Primal Scream’s “Echo Dek”, into almost unrecognisable territory.

31. COEXIST – The xx

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Several years on from their stunning 2009 debut, Jamie xx is now a coveted remixer and the virtual entirety of that album has been covered by everyone from Damon Albarn to OMD to Shakira, mashed up with The Notorious B.I.G. and sampled by Rihanna.  Not to mention an infinity (see what I did there) of wubstep remixes. Three years on and the trio return with “Coexist”, which Jamie xx decsribed as “developed” but not “completely a world away” and “a development of where we were before”. Which is exactly what it is. The complicatons of relationships are mulled in much of Oliver Sim and Romy Madely-Croft’s interchanges, the thread running through most of the album. It’s not a quantum leap for The xx, but does further define the unique sound of a band, a bit like the instantly recognisable chords of Depeche Mode or the dissected beats of Cornelius (even though the album sounds like neither, if you see what I mean). And, like a vast swathe of this year’s selection, it could well be described as “haunting”.

30. SOLO PIANO II – Chilly Gonzales

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Imaginatively-titled follow-up to his “Solo Piano” album from 2004, featuring nothing but…er… solo piano. But sometimes there are times when only a bit of solo piano will do, and this does the trick a treat. Especially if you’ve already had your fill of Chopin’s nocturnes. A classical classic, as it were.

29. OH, MONSTERS! – Anni B. Sweet

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Another female singer-songwriter? And a Spanish one to boot? Haunting (it’s that word again), almost Irish-tinged vocals which wouldn’t jar if played after the album at number 11 on this very chart. And to think she once did a folksy cover of Take On Me.

28. A+E – Graham Coxon

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Following the “pastoral” excursion of 2009’s “The Spinning Top”, the reconciled Blur guitarist went back plying his established craft as a purveyor of excitable noisy pop songs, albeit longer ones than usual. Not his grazed knees on the cover btw, although he did take the picture.

27. WORLD YOU NEED A CHANGE OF MIND – Kindness

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The audacity of this North American fellow covering Mrs. Brian May’s finest musical hour (or three minutes) on this record was incredible, but the welcome revisiting of the late Chuck Brown’s Washington GoGo sound was even more so. Who would have thought that one album could channel Prince, Talking Heads, Trouble Funk and Eastenders? Now where did I put that Trouble Funk remix of Copey’s World Shut Your Mouth?

UPDATE: In a strange twist of events that seems to be some inverted echo of LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum” premise, it transpires that Adam Bainbridge, the long-haired brains behind Kindness and the fellow on the album sleeve above these very words, is not from the heart of Washington DC, but from Peterborough.

Which should make the gogo element of his album all the more surprising and somewhat dulls the novelty of his Albert Square re-visit. But only marginally.

26. SHRINES –Purity Ring

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Something about this album reminds me of the Grimes album. Is it the sound, the pitch, the vocals? Or is it just that it’s attractively weird and electronic at the same time. Grimes never sang about her sternum though, and Fineshrine is definitely one of my top five singles of 2012 – even though Tom Ravenscroft didn’t like it.

25. CELLULOID – Lippy Kid

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Top Bandcamp discovery this, a mainly instrumental minimal electronic album harking back to the days of 8O8 State’s “Quadrastate”, echoing the sounds of modern cities in the way an ultra-slick metro train might hurtle down the neon tunnels of a Blade Runner-era  Japan. Or something. His Love To Infinity EP (not on this album) is worth checking out too!

24. CELLS – Fake Blood

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As forgotten two-hit wonder Carmel once opined in the mid 80s: the drum is everything. Even if it may be a very upmarket drum machine or a pricey computerised rhythm program. Unlike his popular “USED” mixtape series which was a jazzy selection of downtempo breaks and the like, “Cells” is a return to the beat-driven sound for which he carved a remixing niche for himself, although house, techno and yer quality electronica are used to incredibly uplifting effect, of which lead track Yes / No is a prime example. Bang to the beat of the drum!

23. DON’T BE A STRANGER – Mark Eitzel

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The American Music Club founder returned to the recording studio after a good pal of his struck it lucky on the lottery and altruistically decided to plough a share of his generous takings into this album. As you might expect, if you are familiar with Eitzel’s often introspective oeuvre, it’s no chipper upbeat compendium of tunes… but competent production and a world-weary sense of humour pulls you through, and the record certainly stands up to repeated listening.

22. THE HAUNTED MAN – Bat for Lashes

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Blimey, how many albums on this list could be described as “haunting“, eh? And this one’s even got the word “haunted” in the title. Laura is the key song on this disc, and it too could be described as haunting. Beautifully so, but haunting nonetheless. Natasha gets her kit off on the album cover as well, although pervs should be warned that she seems to be carrying the body of a dead (and also naked) man that cover up her bits. Maybe she caught him ogling from behind the bushes. Who knows what goes through this lady’s mind?

21. DJANGO DJANGO – Django Django

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Rob da Bank liked this ‘un from the get-go and who can blame him? Hail Bop is the standout track from the album at We Love All That Towers (sadly they weren’t the first to use their comet-centrical punning title) as it has all the hallmarks of what I believe is called “an earworm” and Love’s Dart and Default were rum singles too. If the album reminds you a touch of the Beta Band it’s possibly because the Django Django drummer is the BROTHER of John Maclean out of the Beta Band.

20. SWEARIN’ – Swearin’

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Another Bandcamp discovery that can actually be found as a totally legal free download on the internets if you know where to look, Swearin’ are an exciting  Brooklyn band with echoes of the Sub Pop scene before grunge became stale. The Breeders are another touchstone when trying to describe that Swearin’ sound. If you can imagine a wide awake and jumpy version of slackers, this is what this band sound like. Hat tip to the Edinburgh Man podcast for alerting me to this!

19. IN OUR HEADS – Hot Chip

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Some people were disappointed with this latest Hot Chip album, as maybe their previous work had set the bar too high. However, tracks like How Do You Do? and Flutes are worthy additions to the band’s exemplary canon, although why Night and Day B-side Jelly Babies wasn’t an album track (or even an A-side!) is anyones’ guess.

18. VISIONS – Grimes

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Stupidly I expected Grimes to sound like Wiley or Roll Deep Crew, whereas actually this album is sort of industrial shoegaze chillwave electronica with female vocals (provided by Clare Boucher, aka Grimes) and hints of medieval folk music, Kraftwerk and metal in the mix. It’s strangely addictive, and sonically enthralling. It’s also on 4AD, which figures.

17. WONKY – Orbital

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The Hartnoll Brothers join the long list of 90s rave comebacks, including The Prodigy and… er… Guru Josh. Okay, maybe it wasn’t such a long list. Wonky the single stands out, not least because of that mad cat video, but Where Is It Going? was a stormer of a track, both in its remixed “live style” version and in its Paralympics appearance with Stephen Hawking, who last contributed to a pop record doing the vocals to Radiohead’s Fitter, Happier in 1997. Possibly. Oh, and Zola Jesus also appeared on there!

16. PAMYU PAMYU REVOLUTION – Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

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This is what Japanese pop should be about, dressing up in weird retro clothes, sporting daft cutesy wigs, long eyelashes and bizarre videos that would make any acid casualty check his drink. The whole album is like the “PONPONPON” video. Forget Gangnam Style and K-Pop, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is where it’s truly at in quirky Asian pop.

15. BREAKTHROUGH – The Gaslamp Killer

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I first became aware of The Gaslamp Killer after watching an online stream from Dublab.com of William Benjamin Benussen (for it is he) doing a live video mix. His debut album is a freak-out in a padded room but bizarrely addictive. There is also a rather instructive linguistic interlude on Britain’s favourite four-letter word.

14. BLOOM – Beach House

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It’s American shoegaze (they call it “dream pop”, you know) but it’s, like, from now! Or is it chillwave? You get the feeling they’ve listened to a few Cocteau Twins albums and Lush singles but that’s really not a bad thing. In fact we need more records like this. It’s the Lazuli of the land, my son.

13. MATURE THEMES – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Grafitti

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Only In My Dreams was one of my singles of the year, an absolute pearl of a tune.. and although it is the obvious stand-out track on the album, the long player is no stinker. One track even sounds a bit like Julian Cope. Ariel himself does come across as a bit of a rose-tinted Evan Dando in the videos though…

12. SILENCIO – Laetitia Sadier

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Debut solo outing from the voice of Stereolab. Despite her split from her band partner Tim Gane, Laetitia sounds as political on this album as Gane did at the height of McCarthy’s cult fame. And yes, it still sounds a bit like Stereolab, and not just vocally. Should have done better in the year-end charts!

11. MELODY’S ECHO CHAMBER – Melody’s Echo Chamber

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Breathy French chanteuse (quite possibly named after Serge Gainsbourg’s trippy opus Melody Nelson) chases Tame Impala bloke half way round the world and tracks him down and gets him to help out with her debut album. Result, one charmingly woozy psych-pop album (mainly in English) with echoes of Lush and shoegazyness. Albeit one that sounds a bit like Tame Impala.

10. THE GHOST IN DAYLIGHT – Gravenhurst

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At times Nick Gravenhurst sounds like an English Jeff Buckley, at other times it seems like he wants to be Kevin Shields. Melancholy and thoughtful, wistful but at times noisy. Another fantastic late night listen, on Warp Records despite being bleep ‘n’ glitch free. Well worth your eartime, I would say, as are all his albums. You might even say it too was haunting (groan).

9. BLUNDERBUSS – Jack White

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Strangely less erratic than some White Stripes albums, “Blunderbuss” packs a punch. White’s reading of “I’m Shakin’” is a joy to behold. As journo Alexis Petridis once observed, “bonkers Jack White” is back on this album, jostling “earnest Jack White” to one side. Which can only be a good thing.

8. THE BRAVEST MAN IN THE UNIVERSE – Bobby Womack

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This album basically follows a similar precept to that of Gil Scott-Heron’s swansong “I’m New Here”, a moderately well-known black male singer with an illustrious back catalogue and of advanced years showing he’s still “got it” by singing amazingly over a modern but strangely un-jarring series of compositions. And it works, to great effect. All the more surprising considering this was partly the work of Blur polymath Damon Albarn. It’s a shame no-one bothered to do this with James Brown when he was still alive.

7. VALENTINA –  The Wedding Present

David Gedge is quite possibly the nicest man in post C86 indie-pop (or rock or whatever it’s called these days), but that doesn’t mean he can’t write a cutting line to a lover who spurned him. “Bang bang you’re dead!” he shouts on the opening track, with a very subtle Mark E. Smith “-ah!” at the end of the exclamation.. and this sets the tone for the whole album. Vintage Weddoes. “I understand you, and I can’t stand you.” And he even recorded one of the tracks in German.

6. LONERISM – Tame Impala

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The lone member of Tame Impala – Kevin Parker – explained the album thus: “For me, it’s a combination of nice sugary pop crossed with really fucked-up, explosive, cosmic music. It’s like Britney Spears singing with The Flaming Lips”. Couldn’t have put it better myself.

5. OH NO I LOVE YOU – Tim Burgess

Oddly, it was only once head Charlatan Tim Burgess had left his adoptive home in L.A. to return to dear old Blighty that he produced his most Americana-tinged record yet in the form of the wonderful “Oh No I Love You”.

Helped out by Kurt Wagner of Nashville alt. country heroes Lambchop (Wagner actually went to school in Sheffield, to confuse matters) Tim has turned a real gem of an album, another disc that merits repeated plays from start to finish.  High points are the record-lovers’ anthem A Case For Vinyl (did you see what he did there?) , originally a Record Store Day 7” single, White (which should have been a top ten smash but probably wasn’t) and The Doors of Then.

4. PEGASVS – Pegasvs

Some people out there might not be that familiar with Pegasvs (even though I featured them earlier this on the blog… keep up!) whose eponymous debut album oh-so-narrowly missed bagging bronze in this rundown of the best of 2012.

The Barcelona-based band was recommended to me earlier this year by @drelatsg on Twitter (who lives thereabouts) and since then they’ve garnered plaudits from TheQuietus (UKs premier intelligent music site), a BBC6Music play from Stuart Maconie and underground acclaim in various Latin American countries. Not bad for a noisy motorik band singing in Spanish! The album is a must-have, with tracks such as Brillar, El melodía del afilador, Atlántico and El final de la noche being standouts. Top videos too, courtesy of record label CANADA (all capitals). Hoping for bigger and brighter stuff from this lot in 2013.

3. CHANNEL ORANGE – Frank Ocean

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In the top five of this We Love All That 2012 chart heavy iPod rotation counts for a lot, and so Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” – his first album proper following a couple of critically applauded mixtapes – had to be top three at least.

 Part of the peculiar Odd Future collective (kind of an abstract homophobic Wu-Tang Clan but with fewer kung-fu references and even more swearing), Ocean (no relation of Billy, you’ll be relieved to hear) “stunned” the world by issuing a press release fessin’ up (I believe this is the parlance) to having “loved” (I’m quoting) a person of the same sex. This normally would not have brought the internet to gush with praise – this didn’t happen when Will Young came out, did it – but given that fellow Odd Future acolyte Tyler (the Creator) was becoming a sort of Buju-Banton-it’s-okay-to-like in the eyes of some online music hacks, Ocean’s frank (pun intended) admission was a breath of fresh air in a genre of black music where “no homo” had seemingly become a jolly catchphrase to revive another prejudice.

 Sadly, given that Ocean’s statement linked to a stream of the album which was the first chance most of us got to hear it, the man’s sexual persuasion did tend to overshadow the musical worth of a blinding album, which seemed to meld the good bits of Prince and Stevie Wonder and thrust them headlong into this confused post dubstep world. A Carpenters sample here, a (come on, let’s say it) wanky guitar solo there, an album that managed to sound vaguely off-kilter (Pyramids is over nine minutes long, but it seems shorter) but enticingly easy on the ear. Ill Manors it ain’t. Thinkin’ About You is another standout track, quite possibly about a male lover, real or imaginary. Unless I’m getting the wrong end of that “a new feel” line. Ok… best not go there. But a cracking song nonetheless. How can he top this though? Or will it be genre-hopping for Frank Ocean album number two?

2. BE STRONG – The 2 Bears

“Be Strong” can be summed up in one (albeit clumsy) sentence: positive 21st century balearic vibes for the beaten generation.

Another album that merits repeated playing, although the title track and singles Work and Bear Hug are obvious highlights. The 2 Bears moniker has been explained various ways… one being that it was a tongue-in-cheek reference to Hot Chipper Joe Goddard and comrade Raf Rundell as “bears” (google it) despite both being straight, another being that there was originally a third bear – Joe Mount from Metronomy – who left. Whether there was ever a Goldilocks or some porridge is debatable. The Hot Chip sound is detectable and Alexis Taylor even appears to chip in (pun intended) on Bear Hug.

But the Balearic mix of palatable 90s house beats and positive lyrics to uplift the listener whether on the dancefloor or in the “cans” makes a change from the tiresome dance clichés of sexual prowess and bling / cash / cars. If David Guetta was flogging this kind of gold dust to spotty braced-up American kids in Miami instead of the dross he currently churns out along with Pitbull, Flo Rida et al, the world would be a far better place, and more positive to boot. Oh, and the references in the title track are impeccable, possibly even more so than those of the band whose album is sitting atop the 2012 favourite fifty tree today…

1. WORDS AND MUSIC by Saint Etienne

For most people, the words “concept album” have disturbing connotations, often inextricably linked with the darkest excesses of prog rock, conjuring up all sorts of images related to an over-eager consumption of Tolkien, illegal substances and far too many hours ogling nine-sided dice in the Games Workshop. So if you are then told that the first track off this ‘ere concept album actually namechecks “Peter Gabriel from Genesis” you may start to worry. But fear not, for this is Saint Etienne we’re talking about here.

Words and Music by Saint Etienne” (to give the album its full title) shows that, even though a quarter of a century gone by since the fantastic London-centric collage that was “Foxbase Alpha” (tastefully – dare I say masterfully – updated by Richard X as “Foxbase Beta” in 2009), the Heavenly trinity (see what I did there?) of Stanley, Wiggs and Cracknell can still produce fantastic pop music. Like whisky that has spent years in an oak cask, the band have matured, while retaining the essence of what we liked about them in the first place. The wistful nostalgia and the dewy-eyed memories of greasy-spoon caffs (remember Mario’s Café?) still remain, as do the overt references to pop-songs-they-have-loved.

 The whole album, as the title suggests, is a paean to a bygone era, one probably dear to the hearts of anyone over thirty-five. The era “where music mattered”. Where music was a physical product, initially vinyl, which could serve not only as a backing track to our daily lives but actually something to be treasured, and often shared with friends – either “round at someone’s house” or copied onto a cassette tape – cementing friendships and defining what was “in” or “out” to the listener. Records were not just for playing, but for collecting… for coveting. As opposed to simply amassing, which is what even yours truly does with mp3s. And these vinyl platters aged, often adding a warmth to the recordings, a personal edge not unlike that which trouser manufacturers try hard to artificially replicate with their “stressed jeans” lines.

Every song on the album is connected to the way music connects to the listener: via the radio DJ, the club DJ, the seven inch single, the live concert, the stereo headphones etc. On a personal level I first heard the double album (with a disc of beefed-up remixes) and played the remix album to death, far more than the original disc. I even forked out for the 3CD box set, with a map, photos, a pin badge thing and all. But then a few weeks ago I listened to the original disc again and fell in love with it. Whereas the original album had previously seemed a bit limp compared to the kickin’ 2 Bears, Golden Filter and Tom Middleton remixes, upon further listening (especially to the lyrics) the whole album stood up as a solid body of work. Record Doctor is probably my least favourite moment on the album, but even that works in the context of the whole thing.

It’s rare to find an album these days that is not “just something to dip into” but a satisfying meal from start to finish. Where the words and the music are equally important. When one of your favourite bands does it, after so many years, it is to be commended. Along with the selection of remixers on the bonus disc as well, of course. The icing on the cake, as Stephen Duffy would have said.

So, when all is said and done, 2012 has been a fantastic year for music, even though – when the cans come off –  the non-musical reality is pretty grim. Better keep those headphones on then. Besides, in this weather they keep your ears warm too.

John Peel: home truths

18 Oct


As is the case when one’s heroes are thrust into the tabloid spotlight for the wrong reasons, there are normally three options.

The first is to mount a vigorous, impassioned defence as to how your godlike idol could never have done such a thing, or that the very thing your godlike idol is alleged (or even has been proved) to have done is really “not all that”.

The second is to spurn your godlike idol for being charlatan and a fraud, sever all emotional ties with him or her, burn all related memorabilia you may have accrued during your blind years of ignorant fandom and publicly announce to all and sundry that he or she is no longer the apple of your heart’s desire but the evil object of your deepest disdain.

The third option – probably the most English and by far the easiest – is to “keep calm and carry on” as if nothing had happened.

The unpleasant – and quite probably genuine – revelations this month that John Peel had engaged an ongoing (3-month) improper physical relationship with an impressionable 15-year-old Black Sabbath fan (female), back in 1969 (when he was around the should-have-known-better age of 30) has given a lot of us pause for thought. Here was someone widely regarded as little short of a saint committing one of the most repugnant crimes known to society.

The whole grisly Jimmy Savile scenario, while shocking and stomach churning, and certainly one that affected far more people, many of whom who were far more vulnerable, was somehow less of a shock because it had been the subject of jokes and rumours for years. Like many of my peers I wrote to Jim’ll Fix It as a boy and unsurprisingly none of this went through my impressionable mind, but decades later it became patently obvious that this jingly-jangly, cigar-smoking, latterly be-tracksuited character was definitely more uncomfortably strange than eccentric. I was also quite fond of Gary Glitter in the 1970’s too. Then again, these were the times when some people were shocked at the suggestion that the Village People (or Freddie Mercury, or Rob Halford)  were gay, let alone that a pudgy Bacofoiled-up preening turkey was a paedophile (ostensibly heterosexual) sex tourist.

Abusing the trust and ingenuity of minors is WRONG, even if you consider that they are “gagging for it”. Even if they actually ARE. It’s always wrong, no two ways about it.

THIS girl was fifteen too, I’ll have you know

Peel was probably the nearest I had to a hero, and as The Stranglers once pondered… whatever happened to all the (real) heroes? When Peel’s affair with this underage girl began, he had just come out of an unhappy marriage to an American girl of a similar age (which was freely admitted by Peel in his autobiography, and, if I’m not mistaken, before), possibly as an altruistic gesture to get another emotionally screwed up young person free passage out of the country and back to the UK (or even to help his own immigrant status working in the US) or maybe just to legally take advantage of a young “bit of skirt” (to use the demodé parlance of the day).. who knows. Although this is pretty worrying behaviour by 21st century mores, back in the 60s and earlier, it was apparently a common practice in that part of the US. NO EXCUSE, I grant you, but that’s how it was, and probably why these “revelations” did not shock Britain to its core when they were made, either in Peel’s lifetime or immediately after Margrave of the Marshes was published.

It is at this juncture that I feel tempted to engage in my own rather irritating vice, and one John Peel probably has something to do with – quoting song lyrics. And curiously the lyrics of another “fallen idol” in many of my peers’ eyes: those of Steven Patrick Morrissey. For it was Mozzer who stated that “Fame, fame, fatal fame” could play “hideous tricks on the brain“, and who himself went on to win himself enemies and lose himself fans when his militant vegetarianism and easy-to-(mis)interpret-as-racism comments about England or the Chinese veered dangerously into the realms of self-parody.

I imagine early transatlantic fame had also played a few hideous tricks on Peel’s brain as well, and sad as it is to admit it, I imagine that it wasn’t until he met “the Pig”, his future wife Sheila, that his brain settled down and he evolved into the benign patron saint of alternative music that he was until so very recently best known for being. I do recall someone on a Peel documentary – a fellow DJ perhaps, or maybe even his brother – saying that marrying Sheila was the best thing Peel ever did, a far greater thing than giving so many amazing musicians a leg-up in the business (along with a handful even he might have been glad to forget). Maybe this was the true significance of what on the surface seemed like a mundane platitude.

John Peel did not register on my conciousness radar until the early 80s, when I was at secondary school, by which time he  had been a married man for almost a decade. “My” John Peel didn’t play Black Sabbath, Yes and T.Rex but Bogshed, Yeah Yeah Noh and T. Chippington. And electro, and dub and happy hardcore… and more.

Just as Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band bore little resemblance to Love Me Do.

He evolved.

The John Peel I “knew” would probably have been ashamed of playing some of the prog rock noodling that he aired in the 70s in the 80s or 90s.  Just as he was probably ashamed of certain other things that went on back then.

No excuse, but everyone makes mistakes, it’s just that some mistakes are a bit more serious than others. Or a lot more.

But being English, an unfortunate trait that both the late man and I share, we often tend to be fairly “matter-of-fact” about these things. The traditional English response to the classic opening conversation gambit “How are you?” is seldom “I’m fine!” but “Not bad ” “Can’t complain” or ” Mustn’t grumble“.

We’re not very good at the Tiger Woods-style mea culpa in dear old Blighty.

Just ask Nick Clegg.

Often a dignified silence is considered best, not unlike in the Vatican City.

The mighty fall..

Nonetheless, the whole “Dead Radio One DJs in Paedo Shocker” scandal (linking Peel to Jimmy Savile’s shuddersome predatory “activities” in a similar way to the way George W. Bush linked 9/11 with Saddam Hussein) also shows a continuing hypocrisy in British journalism, especially of the tabloid variety. Did anyone notice that the Daily Star turned Peel’s grim 3-month dalliance into THREE YEARS? Google it yourselves, I’m not linking to it here. And the Daily Mail, whose awe at such horror has turned it into the WORLD’S favourite – or maybe I should say “favorite”, there are so many Americanisms and US spellings in their damn hackery – online paper, while simultaneously printing stories about how Punky Brewster or the nine-year-old on the Cosby show is no longer jailbait, or that some 15-year old model is “looking good“.

Billy Bragg, whose gift of a mushroom biryani to John Peel famously opened the door to “fame”, probably addressed this tabloid hypocrisy best in this ditty “It Says Here“, when Auntie Beeb allowed him to say the word “tits” in front of Selina Scott and thousands of other breakfasting Britons in 1984:

If these accusations made against John Peel are true (and it looks like they probably are, given the acknowledgement of a sexual relationship in the unmistakable Peel vertically-inclined handwriting that appeared in the press) , then his actions cannot be defended or excused. The papers, just as they have ensured the words SAVILE ROW will no longer be associated with tailoring but with sexual predators at the BBC, have forever associated Peel with underage sex.

Of course it takes “two to tango”, and I would like to imagine it was she and not he who made the first move, but that is still no excuse. He was also unaware of any “impregnation” (despite the era of “free love” having  made its mark, I imagine a widespread awareness of “safe sex” was yet to hit a pre-AIDS-aware world), although he may have suspected as much he was never informed.

But the papers are always willing to place their godlike judgements.

In another situation where the man was less of a role-model figure, then maybe the girl might have been derided as “loose“.

Or have we forgotten Charlotte Church and her “voice of an angel”?

What good does dragging up the misdoings of the dead if it does not go hand in hand with an investigation of the living and the apparent  “anything goes so long as no-one knows” culture of the BBC and other institutions, and if it merely causes distress, grief and embarrassment to surviving spouses, children or other relatives?

All hands on decks

The regrettable prevalence of haterz and trolls in this (totally) wired world often means that even friends, Peel-friendly musicians or merely admirers of Peel’s championing of diversity and “the new” against the same-old-same-old are ignorantly tarred with the child-abuser-apologist brush unless they “disown” him.

It’s all so black and white… so “us and them“.

To end this rather atypical post I will just state that I will be “Keeping It Peel” on October 25th… although I am expecting to read a lot of tweets and the like saying “I’m Keeping it Peel today, I’m shaggin’ a 15 year old LOLZ” to go with the “Now I know why he loved Teenage Kicks” and “Gives a new meaning to the words ‘Peel Sessions’quips that pass for wit these days from people who usually find the notion of creating a false death rumour (to get their egos trending on Twitter) hilarious or who send threats of violence or death to footballers each time they fluff a penalty or whatever.

I’ll leave the last words – more or less – to Morrissey once again. Although these words could well be addressing himself, I’d like to redirect them to reference the post-Sheila, post reckless-wild years-John Peel, facing the wrath of the self-righteous media and the Frankie-Boyle-wannabes on the social networks. This was the John Peel I “knew”, or at least the John Peel I grew up with.

“It’s so easy to laugh,
           It’s so easy to hate,
                 It takes strength to be gentle and kind”

The song – “I Know It’s Over“, as you may have guessed – is sung from the grave, and seems to be appropriate for someone who was frequently described as both “gentle” and “kind” during the time I knew of him.

I also do feel that Peel himself – once he’d expunged his demons with the help of the family he created to replace the distant absent parents he had suffered in real life – would have been totally disgusted with his younger self, but that his matter-of-fact dismissal of his relationships with “groupies” etc was his stiff-upper-lip boarding school upbringing showing through.

After all, he was a devoted father of four, and regrettably, for some of us men, maturity only comes with parenthood.

So this coming October 25th we will be celebrating the good that Mr. Ravenscroft produced and how (as I’ve stated previously in these parts) the music made the people come together and how (musical) PREJUDICES were broken down thanks to his sterling work. Which is in no way a defence of child abuse, whatever a handful of haterz and trolls and tabloid journalists might want to make you believe.

Jarvis Cocker – a fellow Peel devotee – was once, you will recall, moved to invade the stage and make comical (read “obscene” in tabloidese) gestures to protest at Michael Jackson’s “god-complex” at the Brit Awards. He later explained that if Jacko had stuck to what he was good at (i.e.: making great pop songs like Billie Jean and Thriller and moonwalking) instead of trying to “heal the world” (and inviting small children to stay over at Neverland) he would still have been universally hailed as a genius instead of a fallen star in his later years.

John Peel, contrary bugger as ever, did most of the good in his life after the bad bits.

* Another, possibly better written piece on the subject here.

Thank you for your time. Normal service will resume as soon as possible.

Home taping didn’t kill music (Happy Birthday John)

30 Aug

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Today, 30th August 2012, would have been John Peel’s 73rd birthday.

73 isn’t a particular number of note (his wife had a collection of 78s as I recall, or was it her pick of his 78s.. not sure..) but it is always worth celebrating the life of the man who in his own way fomented the eclectic tastes of so many of us and who, for people of a certain age (my age and older, I suppose) who lived out their student years before the so-called interweb, was sometimes the sole or at least the initial conduit into a world of music outside the traditional realms of Top of the Pops, although of course many of the musicians he gave an initial airing to would go on to be staples of such programmes.. but that’s another story.

Just as many today would scour music blogs and cheeky content sites trying to find interesting new-to-me music for no money, their counterparts of the 1980s (and before) would sit listening to John Peel’s programme at 10.00 pm on the one-time-wunnerful Radio One (“275 – 285, and stereo V-H-F”) with sweaty fingers paused over rec and play. Downloading a podcast from 6Music or listening to Zane Lowe or whoever on the iPlayer doesn’t really match up in the “magic memory” stakes, however fantastic Stuart Maconie’s musical taste is (and it is, believe me). And just as we would tape the songs off Peel’s programme (or in some cases, just leave the thing running and tape the whole programme), young men and women up and down the country would be inspired to start their own bands, record a demo tape and send it to the BBC for him to hear. Some with the idea of becoming professional musicians, others just keen to meet the approval of their revered tastemaker. Peel usually listened to these tapes in his car while driving to Broadcasting House, or wherever, and once quipped that he imagined many listeners imagined he would be more than happy to meet his maker in a road accident while trying to decipher a cassette inlay. Something he made quite clear was not the case!

Tapes were central to John Peel’s BBC shows, whether they were specially-recorded ones he received in the post from bands, African cassettes sent from foreign parts (like.. er.. Africa) or the cratefuls of TDKs and BASFs that were used to record his shows by listeners like me (and quite possibly by you as well).

Which leads on to the tapes themselves.  Thanks to the web you’re reading this on now, collaborative projects like the fantastic John Peel Wiki compile months and months of Ravenscroft-selected broadcasts, from semi-muffled recordings of  The Perfumed Garden and Top Gear (the pre-Clarkson, even pre-Woollard Top Gear – the “gear” in question probably being a drug reference than anything motor-related) where the great man spoke in what seems a fairly posh-but-weedy voice to crystal-clear digital DAB recordings in the 21st century… recordings of the wise-but-sufficiently-with-it-but-not-embarrassingly-so dad we never had or the one we would have liked to evolve into ourselves one day.

The equally wonderful John Peel Archive, who are currently working their way though Peelie’s “hallowed shelves” a hundred records at a time (100 records per letter, A-Z), have also been keeping their own collaborative documentation of those cassettes on which we tapers recorded Peel’s shows. I myself thought I was being incredibly original in calling one of my “taped off the radio” cassettes “Mixed Peel” until I saw that someone on the Peel Archive Pinterest page had posted photos of his own collection including one with the same name (along with an “Orange Peel”, an “Emma Peel” and so on).

So here are some of my “original” custom-made Festive Fifty cassette inlays from the mid to late 80s, my “golden era” of listening to John Peel. These were the days of photocopied fanzines, of Rotring pens and Letraset, of Pritt Stick and typewriters that jammed. A colour photocopy was a thing of wonder, and nobody owned their own printer. In fact, mention the word “printer” to a sixteen-year-old schoolkid in the 1980s and they’d probably think of orange xerox-mecca Prontaprint or Mr Munnings out of Trumpton.

Looking back on these lovingly-prepared covers (who said “sad bastard” back there?) I really don’t think I could have imagined making such an effort for any of Peel’s contemporaries, even though I regularly listened to Janice Long, Kid Jensen and Annie Nightingale (as well as Mike Allen on Capital and other stuff) and enjoyed most of the music. I no longer own a working tape recorder as various Walkmen, ghettoblasters and tape-to-tape separates have long given up the ghost. Occasionally I dip into the very programmes that live in the cases you see here, recorded by someone else at the same time I was listening (these shows – at least to my knowledge – were never re-broadcast on Radio One) and digitised by that same person or those same persons with more technical flair than myself.

Home taping didn’t kill music, you see. It saved it. For posterity.

Here are some links to some site with shows originally preserved on tape:

Now to start digging around for something for Keeping It Peel day, October’s not that far away!

Adam Yauch – Growing Up In Public (Part One)

16 May
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“They call me Adam Yauch but I’m MCA” – note tongue placed firmly in cheek

Like quite a lot of people out there I was saddened, if not a bit shocked, to hear of the death of Beastie Boy MCA – known to his parents (who are both still alive) as Adam Yauch – at the age of forty-seven. Although I wasn’t lucky enough to have seen them live I do have quite a few of their albums (all, oddly, except their mega-selling breakthrough  License to Ill – though I do have a couple of singles from it – and their final Hot Sauce Committee Vol. 2) as well as various 7″s, 12″s… and rather a lot of cheeky downloads (*cough*).

I’m not going to feign deep personal distress here, I never personally knew any of the Beastie Boys nor have any distant blood connection to Mr Yauch, although it is always very sad when anyone – famous, talented or otherwise –  is cut down by the dreaded c-word in their mid-forties. I believe he had been ill since 2008, but you always imagine that if the damn thing doesn’t get you in the first couple of years then the threat isn’t. I have known friends, family, family friends and family of friends who have been victims of cancer, most of whom did not survive three months after being diagnosed. But sympathy to Yauch’s family (he had a young daughter) as to Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond is most certainly due…

By all accounts the man seems to have been a genuinely nice bloke, as can be seen from the thousands of R.I.P. tweets and tributes flooding cyberspace, from the expected roll call of transatlantic rappers (Chuck D, Ice T, Eric B, Redman, Busta Rhymes, Eminem, Rev. Run from RUN DMC, Nas, LL Cool J, Dan le Sac and Scroobius Pip, Goldie Lookin’ Chain etc) through genuine 80s popstars – (Boy George, Gary Kemp, Duran Duran), local “homies” (Moby, various New York politicos), authentic luminaries (the Dalai Lama, Thom Yorke) and the downright unexpected (Jeremy Vine, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Hives, Gwyneth Paltrow, Molly-Ringwald-out-of-Pretty-In-Pink etc). Also seems most people who had worked with  MCA – photographers, djs, other bands at festivals etc – seem to have held him in high regard. Sadly, certain people – presumably caught up in the tragedy of it all – could have phrased their tributes a little better…

As the mags, blogs and newspapers have all reminded us, the Beastie Boys penetrated (oo-err) public consciousness in 1986 with their (cliché alert! cliché alert!) game changing debut “License To Ill”, with which Rick Rubin’s Def Jam label was able to cross over to the White America so beloved of the Manic Street Preachers. Noisy rock guitars melded to solid beats fronted by three young punks (in the American sense of the word – as in juvenile oiks and rabble rousers – although in an earlier incarnation the Beastie Boys HAD actually been a Black Flag – inspired hardcore punk band) who seem to have wandered out of Animal House, Budweiser cans in hand. An inflatable phallus accompanied them on tour, and their penchant for wearing VW logos from chains around their necks in the same way that Flavor Flav sported his oversized “what-time-is-it” clock lead to tabloid outrage as young men up and down the UK set upon Golfs, Polos and other motors to emulate their fratboy idols.

To me their (cliché alert!) sophomore hit single “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” was an exhilarating mix of  guitar riffs, beats, rhymes (like a lemon to a lime, a lime to a lemon, sticks in my mind… although that’s not a rhyme, of course) and… well… shouting. And when I bought it it was THE B-SIDE of  “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)”, the only single in my entire vinyl collection to contain two sets of brackets in the title. “Time To Get Ill” was the other song on the 12″. What a set.

When I first heard the Beastie Boys I had just finished school and moved to university, or, as many Americans are prone to calling it: to “school”. Whether the band’s supposedly loutish baseball behatted members in the Fight For Your Right video were meant to have been still in secondary education or – as I – dipping their toes in the water of further education was never quite made clear to me, but although I was hardly American fratboy material myself, as any fresher (or “freshman” – and these lads were certainly fresh in the hip-hop sense of the word) knows, copious imbibing of beer was certainly the order of the day for Ad-Rock, Mike D and MCA as it was for myself. But not the Budweiser they drank. Cos that’s gnat’s piss. Anyway, their blend of rock, rap and goonery struck a chord with American youth and before long it “License To Ill” was the first number one rap album on the US Billboard charts, boosted by still-infant MTV back when MTV was a music video channel (hence the name – duh!) and not wall-to-wall programmes on teenage pregnancies and the like. Additionally the fact they were white, sadly, was a bonus.

I remember hearing Brass Monkey and Paul Revere (not UK singles!) being played in the Haçienda on my visits there and before long the 3 MCs had made a stack of money. Later, of course, it was revealed that these raucous Beastie creatures were just caricatures (Ad-Rock’s old man was a successful playwright, let us not forget) and the juvenile sexism and drink / drugs bragging on the record was said to be just play-acting, but something of the band’s old hardcore punk attitude was still part of the hip hop mix. then they took a bit of time off, learned to play their instruments a bit better and acquaint themselves a little better with recording studios and “crate-digging”, which lead to Paul’s Boutique, the album many consider to be their masterpiece.

But just like all those cult films beloved by hipsters that did bugger all at the box office, when compared to its predecessor, Paul’s Boutique stiffed. Or at least the record company considered it had, as it failed to crack the Billboard Top 10. Yet its fantastic cornucopia of beats from a variety of different genres – “Paul’s Boutique had all the best beats” claimed Public Enemy’s Chuck D – and despite its relative commercial failure, the album was certified double platinum in the USA, albeit in 2009! I could waffle an entire day away on the multiple multi-layered joys of “Paul’s Boutique”, on how it changed hip hop, on sampling legislation before and after, on how the shop never really existed, on how it was a hymn to the band’s beloved NYC (not their last), on how they got kicked off Def Jam, but paulsboutique.info does it so much better you can save me the fingerwork and go there instead.

So before this all becomes old hat I’ll wrap up part one of this MCA (he had the raspy voice, in case you didn’t realise) tribute / Beastie Boys retrospective “ting” and leave the rest of the story – Sabotage, Buddhism, basketball, Grand Royal, Nathanial Hornblower, Ocilloscope Labs etc – for a Part Two (with bootleg links, mad videos and stuff), but leave you with these gems to take away. As the man said: “No, I didn’t retire, I’ll snatch you up with the needle nose pliers”.

Poetry.

Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill (original unreleased 15 track version)

Beastie Boys – New York State of Mind (Green Lantern mixtape)

Beastie Boys – Dub The Boutique 

Beastie Boys – Gratitude

Remember, remember, the 25th of October…

20 Oct

We’ll be Keeping It Peel next Tuesday.

But here’s a tune to play in the meanwhile…

Grinderswitch -Pickin’ The Blues (download)