Posted in Songs I Love

Songs I Love : Ivor Cutler – In The Chestnut Tree

Sometimes you find beauty in the most unexpected places. I was compiling a playlist of songs about wood for my wife last week (this isn’t quite as strange as it first sounds, it was our 5th wedding anniversary on Saturday, for which wood is the traditional gift. I did buy her a proper present as well), and was looking for some songs to include alongside the more obvious choices (Knock on Wood, Norweigan Wood, Feed The Tree etc.). I happened upon Ivor Cutler’s ‘In The Chestnut Tree’. I was a little familiar with his work already. He had cropped up regularly on the John Peel show, before both men passed within 18 months of each other a decade ago, and I had a song of his on a Rough Trade compilation I used to own. I knew him to be a slightly eccentric man, producing quirky little songs and poems, they were funny and unique, but I expected little from them.

In The Chestnut Tree is different though, it’s a simple thing, less than 90 seconds long, just a few lines of Cutler’s surprisingly pretty singing voice (I am a bit of a sucker for a Scottish singer, as my King Creosote review will attest), accompanied by a sparse piano, but I find it to be compelling, beautiful and deeply romantic, more so than I ever could have though possible from a track from a 40 year old spoken word album. I hope you love it too.

Posted in Albums I Love

Albums I Love : King Creosote – Astronaut meets Appleman

I first saw King Creosote at a small arts centre in Sale, back in 2005, having turned up to watch Jose Gonzales who was in support. Despite being entirely unfamiliar with his material, he put on a great show, completely engaging the small audience with his stage patter, and his gorgeous Scottish voice, tinged with sorrow and regret. (I also seem to remember him kneeling on stage with his knees in his shoes for the song Bootprints, as if he were a tiny man, which is not something every lead singer does).By this point he had already put out 20 albums on his own Fence label, often in very limited quantities,  so delving too deeply into his back catalogue was always going to be tricky, but I’ve followed his career pretty closely since.

Every album King Creosote has released has had wonderful songs on it, but usually mixed in with a handful which don’t truly grab me. So whilst I love albums like KC Rules OK and Diamond Mine (his collaboration with Jon Hopkins), I wouldn’t have considered any of his albums all-time favourites. Astronaut meets Appleman may just have changed that. Pretty much every song on this album is essential from the brooding opener ‘You Just Want’ to the nine minute plus bonus track ‘The Long Fade’ which never outstays its’ welcome. It contains some of his catchiest, most immediate songs such as ‘Wake Up To This’ and ‘Love Life’, and others such as ‘Betelguese’ which don’t leap out at you in the same way, but ultimately reveal themselves to be just as beautiful. Even ‘Peter Rabbit Tea’ a child-sampling interlude (presumably his own child, but I don’t actually know) is charming, although I don’t know if I would have felt the same way before becoming a father myself.

He remains a fantastic lyricist, with a subtle, wry humour (I’m not going to quote lines here, as lyrics always come off worse on the page than in the song, but just have a listen), and the voice is as wonderful ever, perhaps my favourite of any current singer. The most impressive thing though is producing perhaps his finest work so many albums into his musical life. I used to think that almost all musicians produced their finest work early on, but this year King Creosote (and Nick Cave for that matter) have proved me very wrong.

Posted in Blogs

Blog – The music of our wedding

It was my fifth wedding anniversary on Saturday (don’t worry, I didn’t spend it writing this). As is usual when our anniversary comes around, I’ve been thinking a lot about not only our marriage, but our wedding day itself. In particular, all the music that played a part in that day. Music has always been a huge part of our lives, both before and since we met (at a music festival as it happens), so there was never any doubt it would also play an important part in our wedding.

We married at the Unitarian Church in Brighton, a venue which we had first attended, and fallen in love with, for a concert (part of the city’s Great Escape festival, which utilises pretty much every venue in town). One of the many good things about holding the ceremony there was that a piano and pianist came as part of the package, we just had to decide what we wanted him to play. We chose ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, the Chet Baker version of which is one of our favourite songs, for my wife’s walk up the aisle, and ‘Here Comes The Sun’ for our exit from the church. For the intermission of the ceremony, where my wife and I disappeared off to sign the register, a less obvious choice, Aphex Twin’s Avril 14th, a brief but gorgeous piano interlude on an album otherwise comprised of discordant electronica. I like to think we were the first couple to ask for an Aphex Twin track to be played at that particular venue, but this is Brighton we’re talking about, so perhaps not.

Continue reading “Blog – The music of our wedding”

Posted in Blogs

365 Days of Music

I’ve recently been posting a song every day on Tumblr. I’m, as usual, hoping to introduce people to music I love, both new and old, but mostly it’s a kind of musical diary. I hope to be able to look back in years to come and see exactly what I was listening to in years past (although whether I will actually do so is a different matter). It would have been fascinating, to me at least, if I’d been doing this for longer. I’d be able to look back at my pop-punk phase, my ska-revival phase, my (mercifully brief) nu-metal phase, my psychedelic trance phase, and plenty more years of changing musical tastes besides.

Anyhow, I’ve reached 365 days of this project, a whole year’s worth of music so I thought I would choose one of my all time favourite tracks for today, the beautiful, melancholy, ‘Sad, Sad, Feet’ by Cate Le Bon. If you have any interest, please do follow the Tumblr here, and the Spotify playlist below:

 

Posted in Monthly Highlights

September Highlights

I thought I’d start doing a monthly round-up of the best bits of the blog, for those of you who, understandably  don’t have time to read every single thing I write. So here are September’s highlights:

 

Posted in Albums I Love

Albums I love : Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

I’ve never been that close to the music of Nick Cave in the past. It may partly to do with my first exposure to his music being his duet with Kylie Minogue from his ‘Murder Ballads’ album, which is perhaps not the perfect place to begin. My next exposure to his work came with Mark and Lard’s parodies of two his songs on their Radio 1 show, and this, unfairly, established Cave in my mind as an overly po-faced, serious man, there to be taken the mickey out of.

Over the years, I heard plenty of his songs that I liked, and a few I wasn’t so keen on, but I never really made that emotional connection with his music that causes me to truly fall in love with an artist. In 2010 I moved to Brighton, where Cave also resides (Hove, actually). Cave had been hugely critically acclaimed, especially in more recent years, to the point where he almost seemed above criticism. I’m sure this was never entirely the case, but it seemed especially true in Brighton and Hove, where he was seen as a local hero in his adopted city, and the contrarian in me wanted to proclaim him as overrated, although the knowledge I did actually enjoy many of his songs (and not wanting to be a douchebag) usually  stopped me from doing so.

In July 2015, some time after I had left Brighton and started a family of my own, Cave’s 15 year old son Arthur, fell from a cliff and died. I felt for Cave and his family of course, and shuddered at the thought that I had walked along the underpass where Arthur had fallen many times myself, but the tragedy only briefly flickered across my consciousness, as other peoples tragedies are wont to do. I was no doubt too mired in my own minor trials and tribulations, to think much about what had happened to the Cave family.

Then, just a couple of weeks ago, came ‘Skeleton Tree’, Nick Cave’s first album since the loss of his son. It wouldn’t be true to claim the album is about that event, as most of the lyrics were written before it occured , even if many are eerily prescient (“You fell from the sky” is the first line of the album for example. However, the accompanying film to the album ‘One More Time With Feeling’ made clear the effect the loss had on the recording of the album, and even had it not, if you are aware of Cave’s, it’s impossible to separate the album from that event. Cave’s voice, usually a powerful, menacing thing is fragile, almost broken at times, and the structure of the album seems to mimic the journey of loss. Opener ‘Jesus Alone’ has an angry, raging quality, ‘Girl in Amber’ is plaintive and yearning. ‘I Need You’, is the sound of knowing but not accepting, a lost love, a broken heart. Closing track ‘Skeleton Tree’ has a dreamlike quality, and is as close as such an album can get to hope, an acknowledgment at least, that somehow things must continue.

Some has said, critically or otherwise, that the album has an unfinished feel, but to me it is a masterpiece of arrangement. Instrumentation which was too dense or loud, could have overwhelmed Cave’s voice and lyrics, which are as good as any he has ever written. Allegorical at times, at others almost painfully direct. On ‘Ring of Saturn’ words almost tumbling over each other, on ‘Distant Sky’ each phrase drawn out, given time to breathe, including perhaps the most powerful line on the album “they told us our gods would forgive us, but they lied”. Cave’s long term collaborator Warren Ellis, adds perfect, subtle instrumentation to these songs, minimal pianos, gently pulsing electronics, touches of strings, occasional but expertly used backing vocals. The boldest, most successful choice on the album is the use of female soprano Else Torp to duet with Cave on the aforementioned ‘Distant Sky’.

‘Skeleton Tree’ is a deeply, deeply beautiful album, my favourite of the year, and perhaps the decade. No other album has made me want to listen to it repeatedly this way for a long time. But part of me never wants to listen to it again, and wonders why it appeals at all. For i’m not sure I could claim to have enjoyed this album. It moves me, close to tears. It compels me to listen, almost overwhelms me at times. But how can I enjoy the aftermath of such a tragedy? It feels voyeuristic, even ghoulish sometimes, to listen to these songs

Of course it is a question as old as music itself, why do we want listen to sad songs? Even my two year old daughter will sometimes ask to hear a sad song, and ask what it’s about. It’s not a question I can hope to answer, but for me I think has something to do with the need to understand, to share, to empathise with every aspect of the human condition. We can never truly understand an event such as this of course, even those of us who have experienced something similar, for every tragedy is tragic in its’ own unique way. Cave comes closer than anyone else could to making you understand, and makes me feel that, if the world throws the worst that it can at me, there will be someone out there who understands me.

When you listen to a song about an unrequited love, a broken heart, you know that some day the heart will mend. When you think of the loss of a child, you don’t know that it ever will. No music, no art, no matter how beautiful, can ever lessen a tragedy such as the one Nick Cave and his family have experienced. I can only hope that, one way or another, they can find some form of peace.

 

Posted in Blog

Blog – Go home and be a family man

I was away from home this weekend, catching up with some old friends (and seeing a live show by a rap legend). Before the trip I realised it would be the first night I had spent away from my daughter in her two and a half years on the planet. Actually, that’s not strictly true. The first night after she was born I spent at home alone, as partners were not allowed to stay overnight in the ward in the hospital, which made for one of the lonelier nights of my life. Every night since though, we’ve been either at home together or away together.

I didn’t make a conscious decision not to go away alone for so long, it just never happened until now. Time and money have been scarce these last few years, so there haven’t been many opportunities for weekends away for any of us (not that I would expect my daughter to be gallivanting off by herself quite yet). I felt weirdly guilty in advance of the trip. Not sure why, as logically I knew it wasn’t a big deal for me to take a rare trip away. I also know logically my wife is perfectly able to cope for a couple of days without me, and that my daughter might miss me, but would hardly be distraught. Since I became a father though, logic and feelings rarely align.

Continue reading “Blog – Go home and be a family man”

Posted in Gigs

Gig Review : KRS One – MK11

This was a gig that I only attended because I happened to be visiting a friend in Milton Keynes this weekend, and we were so surprised to find some half decent live music on in the city that it felt rude not to attend. Despite KRS One’s legendary status, I’m not actually that familiar with his work, and my experience of attending hip-hop shows has been mixed at best, so my hopes were not especially high. Arriving at the venue, a barn in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of Milton Keynes, which had been converted into a sports bar/live music venue, even less so. It seemed a particularly incongruous place to find a legend of hip-hop.

Continue reading “Gig Review : KRS One – MK11”