Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Desert Island Discs

A discussion which has brought an uncharacteristically interesting debate in middle class households throughout Britain has been - 'What would be your Desert Island Discs?' Well having finally heeded the call the good people at Radio 4 have given me the chance to make my choices official. Before you rise up in outrage that a nobody such as myself has been given such an honour you best realise that anybody can! Go here to post your own. For those unfamiliar with the format this is the BBC explanation:

'' The format is simple – a guest is invited to choose eight discs, a book and a luxury to take with them as they’re castaway on a mythical desert island.  They’re given the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible.  During the interview they explain their choices and discuss key moments in their lives, people and events that have influenced and inspired them and brought them to where they are today.''

Track One:
Elizabeth, you were born to play that part by Ryan Adams

I've written about this before so won't repeat myself. Quite simply I consider this the greatest song ever written. The purest demonstration of love is sacrifice and this song communicates that better than any other. The back story is Ryan wrote it from the point of view of one of his friends who's wife had suffered a miscarriage. It is a twist of fate that along with Brick by Ben Folds Five such a tragic subject matter could inspire two of the finest songs ever produced. My own connection with it is ongoing - it was one of a clutch of songs that I sought solace in when my good friend Ryan passed away, and it continues to be the song I turn to when I need to reflect and truly appreciate both what I am lucky enough to have and have had.

Track Two:
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright by Bob Dylan

Choosing which Bob song to go with was a truly hellish task - would it be the introspective beauty of Visions of Johanna, the merciless social comment of It's alright Ma or the comforting optimism of Forever Young? I took the easy option and went for Dylan most-simple, the song that made me fall under his spell in the first place. I remember listening to this as a 19 year old reeling from the break up of my first 'real' relationship and Bob's words seemed to not only reflect how I was feeling but point me in the direction of recovery. For a song to have that level of emotional connection forty years after the time of writing speaks volumes of its enduring genius.

Track Three:
Barcarolle from Tales of Hoffman by Offenbach

Again this has appeared on the blog before so I will be brief. A truly magical piece of music that formed the soundtrack to my honeymoon in Tuscany.

Track Four:
Hoppipola by Sigur Ros

Ditto Track Four basically although replace honeymoon in Tuscany with adventure holiday in Peru where I proposed. I know of no other song that can simultaneously soothe and stir the senses so effectively.

Track Five:
Livin' for the City by Stevie Wonder

Where to start? Arguably the outstanding track on my favourite album. Wonder mixes up the political consciousness of Dylan and spices it up with some funk. This song reminds me of growing up with parents who regularly filled the house with the sounds of Stevie and it is a tradition I intend to follow when I start my own family. Not only has this song impacted on me directly but along with the rest of Wonder's golden period output it has influenced so many other incredible artists from Prince to Outkast to the Fugees.

Track Six:
After the Goldrush by Neil Young

Some songs are just utterly faultless. The imagery of the lyrics, the frail purity of Young's voice combined with the simple, sublime backing infuse to form a near perfect whole. I'm ashamed to say that despite working with a Neil Young fanatic for a short period I never gave him a chance; probably owing to his failure to appear on an American Pie soundtrack. Thankfully it didn't take me long to wise up and thanks to some wise men of Kendal I was soon appreciated the wondrous majesty of Young at his best. The song evokes great memories of a particular barbecue celebrating a friends birthday where Young formed the soundtrack whilst great company was enjoyed.

Track Seven:
My Name is Jonas by Weezer

The intro to this song is like a time machine. I'm 17 years old, my (admittedly crap) band were going to make it big, life was a never-ending succession of great nights out with the best friends in the world. Such is the bewitching power of this tune that ten years on in a basement club in Camden for three minutes I was transported back to a time where my whole life was in front of me. For all his sins over the last ten years for Blue and Pinkerton I can forgive Rivers Cuomo anything.

Track Eight:
Oh Happy Day by Children of Agape

This song has a series of extremely strong emotional connections. I first heard it whilst volunteering in South Africa when totally unprompted some of the kids at the Orphanage burst into song. It turned out some of them and their siblings had formed a choir that was beginning to get recognition in an effort to raise money to rebuild their orphanage which had been burnt down in a fire. Despite my lack of connection with the religious content of the song their was an undoubtedly spiritual power to the infectious joy of their song. At the risk of sounding like one of those gap-year types my spell in Africa has a profound effect on me. It changed my perspective from one of intentions to actions and most importantly of all it was sharing this experience that confirmed for me who I should spend the rest of my life with. It was fitting then that as we signed the register on our wedding day the jubilant voices of the Agape Choir filled the Church.
As part of the show you are expected to nominate one song above all the others and for obvious reasons for me it is Oh Happy Day.

The other two decisions are book, and luxury item. As tempting as choosing Robinson Crusoe would be for handy tips it has to be 'The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.' It's a book I never tire of reading and Shakespeare and the Bible should give me plenty of variety. The luxury item would be my acoustic guitar - on an island miles from civilisation there would be no-one to complain about my extremely limited musicianship and atrocious singing.

I'd love to know what you'd choose so please leave comments.

PS - You may have noticed I've opted for Grooveshark over youtube. Sometimes I fear that videos for the sake of it - especially of poor quality - can detract from the music so I'm paring back the amount of videos I use within my blog. Hopefully this will be evened out by posts offering a selection of interesting songs with videos to match.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

I really should like them shouldn't I?

One of the great things about ageing is developing a greater sense of perspective and shedding the adolescent stubbornness that characterises so many young males. The jury's out whether this makes up for the onset of hair loss and susceptibility to crippling hang overs. As a youth, in between declaring my devotion to Noel Gallagher I would take time to spout vitriol about the Manic Street Preachers. A number of my friends were big fans of the Welshmen and took great pleasure in attacking my love of the Beatles and their subsequent clones. Like many at that age I was fundamentally unable to distinguish musical output with the personality of the creators. Nicky Wire's attention seeking provocative endorsement of Mark Chapman's slaying of Lennon ensured I was firmly in the anti-Manics camp. As you'll suspect, in older age this view has changed dramatically. I still believe Nicky Wire to be a bit of a wanker, but can appreciate the brilliant feistiness of early Manics and have enjoyed their recent resurgence, particularly their 'Journal for Plague Lovers' album. It seems we both have aged for the better.

Last night my twitter feed was overwhelmed by exaltations for late eighties-early nineties indie bands. It centred largely around two bands who were routinely hailed as the finest the world has ever known. One was The Stone Roses, and though I stop short of declaring them untouchable, I heartily agree that they were a truly magnificent band. If you remain unconvinced have a listen to Mersey Paradise, which was only a B side. The other band drawing such a lofty praise inspired me to write today's blog after a month's hiatus. Reactions to my disclosure of 'not being a fan' of this band have ranged from disbelief to fevered outrage. Rob Blanchette gave a typical response 'the greatest band of all all all time bar none. Best lyricist. Best guitarist. Genius of epic proportions.' Covering this territory yet again I thought I'd share with you five artists who I'm constantly told I should love yet am yet to catch 'the bug.' Starting with the centre of last night's storm...

The Smiths
The Smiths remain a source of continual frustration for me. They are like a phobia I need to conquer - much like how abseiling down a cliff in Cornwall dealt with my vertigo issues, I continue to search for a cure to my aversion for a band that more than any other, people tell me I should adore. Even my leader in life Ryan Adams considers them the best. They're right; I know they're right! The melodies are imaginative, the musicianship on the money, and lyrically I can appreciate how for many they are poetry. To make matters worse I have actually become partial to a Smiths cover - This Charming Man , Ask and There is a light that never goes out. So why have I failed to cross the Rubicon and embrace their alleged greatness? One simple reason:
All is going well until he opens his mouth. As hard as I try I can't get passed the irritating maudlin wail that Morrisey emits. It is like toothache when you are trying to enjoy a delicious meal. It is always there, preventing you from appreciating what you know to be good but you just can't enjoy it.

Pearl Jam
Another band who I should probably like but do nothing for me. I find Eddie Vedder pompous and they to me always give off an impression of inflated self-importance. I was quite fond of 'Jeremy' for a time but the frankly comedy lyrics meant it soon descended into farce. It also upsets me that Vedder in particular spends so much time massacring artists I hold sacred with abhorrent cover versions. I once had the chance to see Pearl Jam at Leeds Festival but much to the ire of a few of my mates watched Maximo Park instead. Je ne regrette rien.

Doves and Muse
These two deserve co-billing as they fall into very much the same category. Both brought out first albums that had me crowing to all and sundry that they were the future of music, blah blah. Both have spent the remainder of their career seemingly doing their utmost to prove me embarrassingly wrong. They have fallen in to disregard for contrasting reasons - Muse have become overblown showponies who seem to value histrionics over songcraft, and Doves appear to be on a mission to produce music so anodyne and dull that they could cure insomnia. Like The Smiths and Pearl Jam I have often been told how great they are but whereas there is still hope for me if I can conquer my Morrisey antipathy, these two I fear are lost causes.

New Order

Joy Division were an incredible band. Ian Curtis is rightly considered one of the finest lyricists of his generation and his energy and magnetism characterised what made the band great. There is not greater testament to the brilliance of Curtis than the result when his influence is tragically taken away from the band. I had the misfortune of seeing New Order at Glastonbury in 2005 and the fact that the highlight was chanting for John Barnes gives you an indication of the poverty of entertainment on offer. The decision to play some Joy Division tracks was somewhat masochistic in the way it exposed for all to see the startling contrast between the thrill of their previous incarnation and the turgid dross on show. Their are some who have extolled the virtues of New Order to me, some going so far as to cite the tedious Blue Monday as a landmark moment in Dance music. To me New Order are the musical equivalent of men in their late thirties hovering around on the perimeter of the local nightclub they should long since have consigned to their lost youth.

Comments welcomed, particularly your own similar experiences of bands you should like.