Plenty – It Could Be Home

14 04 2018

It Could Be HomePlenty was Tim Bowness’s immediate pre-no-man band. In 2016 and 2017, Bowness and fellow founder members Brian Hulse and David K Jones re-recorded Plenty’s catalogue of 1980s songs, revising some of them and even adding a newly written song (The Good Man). The end result is the debut album, It Could Be Home released on 27 April 2018 on Karisma Records.

Plenty are joined on the album by no-man live band members Michael Bearpark and Steve Bingham, Tim’s Bowness / Chilvers collaborator Peter Chilvers and Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow / Opium Cartel).

Whilst the album is understandably shot through with a real 80s sensibility, with touches of The Blue Nile, David Sylvian, Peter Gabriel, Thomas Dolby, and David Bowie lingering in the sounds and arrangements, It Could Be Home deserves to be listened to as more than just a work of pure nostalgia.

The album opens with a synth heavy, lightly delivered Jagger / Richards As Tears Go By, that is more Stranger Things than Lost in the Ghost Light. Hide delivers an Associates vibe to the music, and signals an album that is much more upbeat than recent Bowness releases. I think that the recent Bowness solo album’s have delivered some of his finest work, with material that is often comparable to a lot of his work in no-man, but it is good to hear a different side with Plenty. Vive la différence.

By far my favourite track on the album, the melancholic Never Needing is the one track on It Could Be Home that would fit onto one of Tim’s recent albums. Fans of no-man’s early work will recognise the song – previously recorded by no-man as Life is Elsewhere, and nowadays mostly existing on dusty old bootlegs or sitting as an (original “dodgy”) Napster-era, hiss-filled mp3 file on people’s hard-drives.

The Plenty version is a revelation. Sparse, brooding and slow-building, with an aching synth line and some of Tim’s most personal and direct lyrics and vocals. This is one of those occasions where I can confidently say that it is worth buying the album just for this song.

“You live in your world and I die in mine.
But I’m hopeful life is elsewhere”

Broken Nights really lifts towards the middle section of the song, before a key 80s stalwart (synth marimba bells) usher in the rest of the song.

Foolish Waking is another of my favourites from the album. Beatless and with some wonderful guitar lines from Michael Bearpark, and feeling a little like the work of the only Tim Bowness/Samuel Smiles studio album, World of Bright Futures from way back in 1999.

plenty

Strange Gods is underpinned by a delicious Mick Karn like bass-line, has hints of Bowie in the verses and a chorus seemingly inspired by The Blue Nile. So how can you not like the song? The mix, carried out with obvious love and attention by Norwegian guitarist, composer and producer Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow / The Opium Cartel) is colourful and warm throughout the album, but especially on Strange Gods.

Every Stranger’s Voice features Peter Chilvers on piano and the forensically detailed lyrics are filled with memories of an intense but long dead relationship. A powerful Michael Bearpark solo lifts the song towards its conclusion.

Another uptempo track is Climb, which has a real post-punk meets The Associates taking a quick detour via The Comsat Angels (circa the Fiction album). What a marvellous melting pot.

The Good Man is a new song that emerged during the recording sessions, and lyrically is tied to the album’s key track, Never Needing. The music has a late 80s feel, and lyrics that signal regret at letting go and giving up the fight too soon. The Good Man and the album’s closing title track offers something very different from recent Bowness releases.

The fact that the recording sessions produced new material of this quality, along with out-takes (such as a wonderful version of Forest Almost Burning, that I hope is revisited) suggest that there is a future for Plenty beyond this album.

If you pre-order It Could Be Home by Plenty from Burning Shed, on CD, vinyl or exclusive limited edition blue vinyl, you will receive an exclusive postcard and a free download EP of four of the band’s 1980s demos. Please note – this exclusive offer is only available until 27-04-2018 and only From Burning Shed.

Order Plenty – It Could Be Home on CD from Amazon

Order Plenty – It Could Be Home on vinyl from Amazon

As Tears go by
Hide
Never Needing
Broken Nights
Foolish Waking
Strange Gods
Every Stranger’s Voice
Climb
The Good Man
It could be Home

Band website: www.weareplenty.com





Near Future – Ideal Home

8 04 2018

near_future_-_ideal_homeIdeal Home is the debut album from Near Future, a collaboration between Blancmange’s Neil Arthur and electronic artist Bernholz (who also performs live as part of Gazelle Twin).

The opening track, with its alarm-like electronics and 80s drum-machine toms, is a real statement of intent. I love the twin vocals on this track, they really remind me of the more experimental side of Godley & Creme (such as the Freeze Frame album from 1979).

Field This is a sparse, edgy piece of electronica, with off-kilter live and processed vocals.

“I remember when this was a car-park, I remember when this was a field”

Overwhelmed is one of the album’s highlights. At times reminding me of the title track to John Foxx’s The Garden, the glacial beauty of the strings work well with the heavily processed vocals and the kitchen sink drama of the lyrics.

Thought Terminating In Your Night builds from scratchy, discordant noise to a more fully formed piece, but the unnerving digital undertones remain to the songs end.

Come And Play is a warmer electronic track that builds from the sounds of children playing. I love the reverb-heavy, almost early Clannad like vocal lines that decorate the second part of this trance-like (mostly instrumental) song.  Along with the title track, this is my other favourite from the album.

near_future

Dawn is the album’s longest track, and another song that utilises found sounds before mutating into something far removed from the beautiful birdsong that ushers in the dawn. Heavily processed, at times robotic spoken words sit atop a mixture of harsh pulses and softer synth lines. The mixture of the two extremes is unsettling and suits the track perfectly.

Gap In The Curtain is another juxtaposition – the edgy, paranoid vocals jostling for dominance over the optimistic, rich synth backing makes this a unique track on the album.

The song that is nearest to the work of Neil Arthur’s main band Blancmange is Kites Over Waitrose. The arrangement reminds me a little of the dark mood of This Mortal Coil, the 80s 4AD collective. Abrasive saw synths and audio seepage underpin the spoken vocals on Kites Over Waitrose.

Album closer Bulk Erase could easily have been recorded in 1983 / 84, with its metronomic kick drum and slowly building keyboard lines.

“Too much has happened, that I need to forget
To be moving forward, without all this regret”

There are further strong hints of John Foxx in Bulk Erase as well as a more recent electronic artist, Deptford Goth.

This is an interesting debut release from Near Future, and adds to a very productive period for Neil Arthur – with recent releases from Blancmange as well as another alternative electronic project Fader.

If you have not heard the work of Bernholz, the other half of Near Future,  some of his releases are available on Spotify, including the album How Things Are Made which has some great songs including the wonderful title track.

Near Future – Ideal Home

1. Ideal Home
2. Field This
3. Overwhelmed
4. Fish And Chips
5. Thought Terminating In Your Night
6. Come And Play
7. Dawn
8. Gap In The Curtain
9. Kites Over Waitrose
10. Bulk Erase

Pre-order Near Future – Ideal Home on Amazon





Yes – Fly From Here – Return Trip

1 04 2018

Fly From Here – Return Trip is a new version of the 2011 Yes album, with the addition of the previously unreleased track Don’t Take No For An Answer and a full-length version of Hour Of Need, which was only previously available in Japan. The biggest change is that producer (and co-writer of many of the tracks) Trevor Horn has re-recorded the lead vocals, effectively making this the final Drama line-up Yes album. Drama is my favourite Yes album, and I am a huge fan of The Buggles, so this was a must-buy release from me.

fly from here return trip

From the opening instrumental that ushers in the Fly From Here suite, the influence of Trevor Horn and keyboard player Geoff Downes (aka The Buggles) looms large, and has many parallels to the second Buggles album, Adventures In Modern Recording.  The 2010 reissue of Adventures in Modern Recording contains a couple of early versions of songs from the Fly From Here suite, and two versions of the stunning track I Am A Camera (recorded by Yes on Drama as Into The Lens).

Fly From Here Pt 1 – We Can Fly is the first track to feature Trevor Horn’s re-recorded lead vocals. I never had a problem with the vocals of Benoît David on the 2011 version of the album, but hearing Horn on lead vocals is such a joy. As a side note, I loved The Producers Made in Basing Street album in 2012 but I was disappointed that Horn did not contribute more vocally to the album, so you can imagine how happy I am with Fly From Here – Return Trip.

The new version has some differences in arrangement and lengths of tracks – which includes a shortening of Fly From Here Pt 1 – We Can Fly, and some added production touches to the end section of the track.

My favourite song on the album is Fly From Here Pt 2 – Sad Night At The Airfield. A haunting, melancholic piece that sounds so much better on the revised version of the album.

“I want to be the one who always gives you shelter
Finds a way to keep you warm”

Some of the albums finest keyboard / synth lines from Geoff Downes add bright colours, and a simple, but powerful Chris Squire bass-line drives the song. This is one of the most moving pieces in the vast Yes catalogue.

Yes 2018

Fly from Here Pt III – Madman at the Screens is also shortened on The Return Trip. The Steve Howe composition Fly From Here Pt 4 – Bumpy Ride has always been my least favourite track on the album, but the Yes guitarist redeems himself with the much stronger The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be, one of Fly From Here‘s key tracks. There is a real fluidity and harmony to all the band members performances on this song.

Life On A Film Set (recorded as Riding A Tide on The Buggles second album) is another of my Fly From Here favourites. Horn’s vocals are so clear and strong, and he really is underrated as a vocalist. I love the acoustic and lead guitar interplay during the tracks mid-section, and Life On A Film Set is a song that I would imagine appeals to fans of the bands earlier work.

I’m glad I have finally got to hear the full-length version of Howe’s Hour of Need, which is so much more fully realised here.

I enjoyed the album on it’s 2011 release, but Fly From Here – Return Trip is the definitive version and has turned what was originally a very good album into a truly great album.

“Armies of angels are leading me on
Take me away from the heart of the storm”

At the time of writing this review, Fly From Here – Return Trip is only available from Pledgemusic – via this link. If it becomes available via other retailers, I will add the links to this page.

Fly From Here – Overture
Fly From Here Pt 1 – We Can Fly
Fly From Here Pt 2 – Sad Night At The Airfield
Fly From Here Pt 3 – Madman At The Screens
Fly From Here Pt 4 – Bumpy Ride
Fly From Here Pt 5 – We Can Fly (Reprise)
The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be
Life On A Film Set
Hour Of Need (full length version)
Solitaire
Don’t Take No For An Answer
Into The Storm

Read my review of The Producers – Made in Basing Street





The Stranglers – The Classic Collection

6 03 2018

Take a stroll over to your CD cabinet. Do you have a copy of the first 7 albums from The Stranglers? Nope? Ok now is your time to rectify this. Parlophone have reissued the bands 1977-1982 studio albums under the name The Classic Collection.

The Raven

These reasonable priced reissues (all single discs) have unfortunately not been remastered, which is a bit of a missed opportunity. So if you already own the albums, you will probably stick with what you have, but I would recommend purchasing the new expanded version of Live (X-Cert) which has an additional 8 previously unreleased on CD tracks from the original concerts at The Roundhouse in 1977 and Battersea Park in 1978. I dare you to listen to the version of Nice ‘n’ Sleazy from Battersea on this reissue without picturing in your mind the on-stage antics from the video. You know which one I mean.

If you don’t have the albums, The Classic Collection offers a quick and easy way to collect some of the finest albums of the late 70s / early 80s. Key non-album tracks from the period are included on each album, along with lyrics (that are more readable than previous CD releases), pictures from the era and a history of the band written by David Buckley (the same history appears in the sleeve-notes of each individual album).

The band’s debut album Rattus Norvegicus still sounds dangerous and raw, 40 years after its original release.

From the violence of Sometimes, the harsh beauty of Goodbye Toulouse through to the new wave classic Hanging Around, the band’s debut still delivers on so many levels.

Every time I hear Peaches, I’m transported back to my school-days, and album closer Down In The Sewer is a dripping with acid, punk-Prog powerhouse of a song.

1977 also saw the release of No More Heroes. The title track is one of the band’s enduring classics, but the album contains often overlooked tracks such as Bitching and English Towns.

This re-issue includes two of my favourite early Stranglers tracks, the edgy paranoia of Straighten Out and the precursor to the post-punk sound of the bands 3rd album, the single 5 Minutes.

“Got anything to say? No? Well shut up!”

1978 saw the release of the bands 3rd album, Black And White. To me, this was the best sounding Stranglers album. There is a real consistency that runs through every single song.

Always a great singles band, Nice ‘n’ Sleazy was one of their finest. Like the earlier Peaches, Sleazy is a mutated version of reggae that is simply a classic Stranglers single. Outside Tokyo slows the pace before the snarling Sweden (All Quiet On The Eastern Front).

All 4  band members sound amazing throughout this album – with my favourite Hugh Cornwell guitar sound and the mighty barracuda bass from JJ Burnel. There is a beautiful symmetry on the epic Toiler On The Sea, and this reissue is topped off by the inclusion of yet another classic Stranglers single, their cover of Bacharach & David’s Walk On By. Better than the original, yes I think so.

As I mentioned earlier, the 2018 re-issue of Live X-Cert is the definitive version. The album captures the band in their most raw state.

Highlights include an incendiary 5 Minutes, a venomous Straighten Out and a speed-driven Hanging Around.

The extra tracks include a breakneck speed version of Down In The Sewer, with Bitching, Peaches and my favourite live version of  Nice ‘n’ Sleazy.

My only tattoo is of The Raven logo on my arm, so you can probably tell that this is my favourite Stranglers album. One of my few regrets is that there was no official live album released from this period, as the band switched up to another level live in 1979-1980. Track down footage of the band from this period on YouTube, you will not be disappointed.

The title track is many fans favourite song. To my ears, The Raven features JJ’s best vocal and some wonderfully inventive guitar lines from Hugh, topped with a driving, almost jazz-like percussion track from Jet and inventive, rhythmic synth lines from Dave Greenfield, delivering an absolutely beautiful song that I never tire of hearing. And I’ve heard it a lot.

Although I followed the band from early 1977, I was not allowed to see them live (my parents hated the band!) until 1979, with their gig as special guests of The Who at Wembley Stadium in August 1979 being my first live MIB experience. Hearing songs from their soon to be released album The Raven was a great way to start a long list of memorable Stranglers gigs.

nmh

Anyway, back to The Raven. Ice and Baroque Bordello still send shivers, and the band did not let up with the string of classic singles, delivering two more in the shape of Nuclear Device and Duchess. This 2018 reissue also includes the single and extended mix of one of the bands best later period singles, Bear Cage.

The most experimental Stranglers album, (The Gospel According To) The Meninblack was released in 1981. Apparently featuring a guest appearance from some bloke called Charlie, this album heralded in the darkest period in the band’s history. Just Like Nothing On Earth still sounds like the future, and Two Sunspots really should have been released as a single. Second Coming has grown into my favourite song from the album over the many years since the albums release.

Another great single (which cost me 79p back in the day, fact fans) is included on this 2018 reissue – Who Wants the World, along with a track that was only available at the time on a US import album,  Vietnamerica.

The final album in The Classic Collection reissue series is from later on in 1981, La Folie. Most people will know this album from the huge hit Golden Brown, but the album offered much more than this iconic single. Let Me Introduce You To The Family may not have performed well in the charts, but it was a great single, and sounded amazing live. Tramp, with its powerful chorus, is the one that got away, and should have been the follow-up to Golden Brown.

Ain’t Nothin’ To It and The Man They Love To Hate were standout album tracks, and the fine production from Tony Visconti gives the band a new edge for the emerging decade.

So there you have it – a welcome reissue of the first 7 classic albums from one of the UK’s best bands.

Buy The Classic Collection on Amazon

Rattus Norvegicus (1977)

No More Heroes (1977)

Black And White (1978)

Live X-Cert (1979)

The Raven (1979)

(The Gospel According To) The Meninblack (1981)

La Folie (1981)

 





Alternative Jewels (say hello to the modern)

4 03 2018

Alternative Jewels (say hello to the modern) is the second in a series of blog posts attached to Spotify playlists I will be putting together, alongside my regular reviews of new releases. Alternative Jewels (say hello to the modern) is the first of two playlists of some of my favourite alternative songs.

I hope my playlists will shine the light on artists that you might not be familiar with, and maybe remind you of some acts that have slipped off your radar. I would love to read your comments about the tracks I have chosen – please feel free to follow my playlists and share them.

I hope you enjoy listening to Alternative Jewels (say hello to the modern).

Opening up the playlist are The Dear Hunter, with one of my favourite tracks from their Migrant album. Bring You Down is one of the band’s most accessible songs, and a great live track. That chorus!

migrant

The Dear Hunter now count one of my favourite singer-songwriters, Gavin Castleton, as one of their members, so I am even more keen to see them live again whenever they next head back to London. I also recommend The Color Spectrum and any of the Act albums, especially Act III: Life and Death.

Crowd Surf Off A Cliff by Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton is one of the most simple yet haunting songs of recent years. The key track on the Knives Don’t Have Your Back album never fails to move me.

Next up in my playlist is the more Fleetwood Mac than Fleetwood Mac pop/rock of Dreamworld by Rilo Kiley, taken from the Under The Blacklight album. I’m probably straying a little from the alternative music genre here, but its such a good song.

My most played track from St. Vincent is the short but achingly beautiful piano instrumental We Put A Pearl In The Ground from the Marry Me album. Cherokee by Cat Power, from her Sun album, is so evocative. Close your eyes and you can feel the blistering desert sun on your skin.

starsIn Our Bedroom After The War is my favourite Stars album (closely followed by Heart). Personal is a tale of dating ads and rejection, and one of Stars most heartbreaking songs. You and I Are A Gang Of Losers by The Dears is a great single, with an amazing chorus and powerful lyrics. The Gang of Losers album is the perfect starting point if you are new to the band.

Hello? Is This Thing On? by !!! or Chk Chk Chk as they are often known, is the song that first introduced me to this wonderful NYC based dance-punk band. I get real Sandanista mid-period The Clash vibes from this track. The paranoia is off the scale here, and you will not be able to keep still whilst listening to this song. Dance suckers!

open heart zooI had to include Danish prog-poppers Mew in this playlist. You can’t go wrong with any of Mews albums, but a good start would be No More Stories… from which Silas the Magic Car springs forth. The first UK artist on this playlist is Martin Grech, who has gone a little too quiet over the past few years. There have been rumblings of new material recently, so hopefully new music is not too far away. Tonight is one of my favourite songs from the Open Heart Zoo album. A lovely, beautifully paced arrangement and production.

Stay Tuned from Anja Garbarek’s Smiling & Waving features Richard Barbieri on atmospheric synths and co-production from Steven Wilson. An evolving, often stark production gives way to a delicious, Portishead like chorus.

I am a newcomer to the music of Destroyer, and whilst Poison Season and Kaputt are my favourite albums so far, Shooting Rockets (From The Desk of Night’s Ape) from Trouble In Dreams is one of their finest songs and so an obvious choice for my playlist. A bold, often discordant arrangement pays dividends after several listens.

midlakeShearwater are really an albums band, so it was hard to pick one track, but just for the vocal effects on the songs end section alone, I had to pick Leviathan, Bound from Rook. I fell in love with Midlake around the same time as Shearwater, and The Trials of Van Occupanther is such a  thoughtfully constructed album. Head Home could easily have been released in the early to mid-70s and the song surely would have been a staple of FM radio in that era.

Another stripped back song is up next, with Joseph Arthur’s A Smile That Explodes from Our Shadows Will Remain. This is the Joseph Arthur that I prefer – an intimate, natural performance from a great singer-songwriter.

Field Music cross so many genres. Whilst they clearly fit into the alternative genre, I hear shades of 10CC and other 70s acts in their adventurous arrangements. I recommend the short and sharp Plumb and their latest, Open HereThe Sexual Loneliness of Jesus Christ by the late Jackie Leven is the oldest track on this playlist. Leven was a Scottish songwriter who fronted the late 70s band Doll By Doll, and this song is a late career highlight.

lunatic-soul-IIThe final two tracks are worlds apart. I Need My Girl is taken from Trouble Will Find Me by The National, a band who I feel are making the best music of their career at the moment. Gravestone Hill is from Lunatic Soul II. Lunatic Soul is the progressive / electronic project from Riverside vocalist and bass guitarist Mariusz Duda. Lunatic Soul have gained a sizeable following and will shortly be releasing their sixth album. All of the albums are worth seeking out – but especially the two most recent albums – Walking On A Flashlight Beam and Fractured.

I hope you enjoyed listening to all of the songs, and maybe you’ve discovered some music you were not aware of. Feel free to leave a comment below and please share this blog / playlist. The next playlist will be the second Alternative Jewels – one of older songs – expect post-punk a-plenty.

To be informed of new posts, along with music tweets, please follow the Music Shack on Twitter @MkMusicshack.





2017 end of year favourites

23 12 2017

I haven’t done this for a few years, but here are my favourite music, tv and film releases from 2017.

Top 5 new albums

In no particular order:

Paul Draper — Spooky Action

Spooky Action from former Mansun mainman Paul Draper is a strong debut album. The songs are ambitious, a mix of new wave and alternative with a slight hint of prog. Whilst the album has hints of Drapers old band, it does not trade off nostalgia.

Tracks such as Don’t Poke The Bear and Friends Make The Worst Enemies are angry and highlight Paul Drapers powerful vocals. Jealousy Is A Powerful Emotion breaks new sonic ground for Draper, and is an album highlight.

The contribution of Catherine AD aka The Anchoress  to Spooky Action is noticeable and welcome.

Tim Bowness – Lost In The Ghost Light

2017 saw the release of the Tim’s 4th solo album, and my favourite to date. You can read my full review here.

The most progressive sounding release so far from the no-man vocalist, the album has a concept built around the onstage and backstage reflections of a fictional ‘classic’ Rock musician in the twilight of his career.

My favourite track on the album is one of my most played songs of the year, the haunting Nowhere Good To Go.

CousteauX – by CousteauX

The comeback of the year for me. Rising from the ashes of the late 90s band Cousteau, CousteauX take the Bowie-esque vocals of Liam McKahey and the razor sharp song-writing of Davey Ray Moor to new levels. Whilst retaining the charm of the original band, CousteauX have added a much more powerful and darker hue to their new songs.

Read my full review here.

Fader — First Light

A real surprise this one. The album crept up on me after two or three listens and it has remained a favourite throughout the year. Fader are Neil Arthur (Blancmange) and Benge (John Foxx & The Maths / Gazelle Twin).

First Light is a very low-fi electronic album containing one of my favourite songs of the year in Launderette. Apparently a “very British take on the solitary mood of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks”, this brooding, pulsating piece of electronica is timeless.

Read my full review here.

Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia

A mostly instrumental album, Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia has picked up new fans as the year has progressed. One for fans of Mike Oldfield, John Foxx and Jean Michel Jarre, its a very moving album. The mixture of synths and a (real) brass band works surprisingly well, and Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia is one of those albums that you should listen to in one sitting, in the correctly sequenced order. Turn off your shuffle!

Read my full review here.

Honourable mentions

Other albums that I have loved in 2017

My favourite progressive album of the year was White Willow – Future Hopes. Dropping the metal leanings of earlier albums, and adding a wonderfully colourful warm palette, Future Hopes is a synth lovers dream. My favourite track on the album is the gentle Silver And Gold. Read my full review here.

Destroyer – ken was released quite late in 2017, and is still seeping into my heart. Destroyer are definitely a marmite band – but I’m a huge fan. ken feels like a love song to the electronica of bands such as New Order. Just listen to the way the synths sweep in on opening track Sky’s Grey. An album for fans who enjoy uneasy listening!

Atone by White Moth Black Butterfly is a very commercial progressive / pop album from members of the bands TesseracT and Skyharbor. Delicate vocals (reminding me of the late George Michael at times) sit atop sweeping orchestral decorated songs.

There are some really strong performances and clever production touches to this fine album. At times I am also reminded of This Mortal Coil in some of the arrangements and reverb-heavy keyboard treatments.

Atone is on its way to becoming one of my favourite albums of the year.

The first album from Cigarettes After Sex might only have one gear – a slow gear – but I have grown to really love this album. I adore the guitar sound – sort of like The Cure mixed with I’m In Love With A German Film Star. The lyrics are intriguing, if slightly pervy and the Twin Peaks vibe makes for a rewarding listen.

Favourite re-issues

David Bowie’s A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982) covers my favourite Bowie era (the “Berlin” trilogy). Apart from the dreadful error with the Heroes album (I’m still waiting for my replacement disc, record company grrrr) I’m happy with this box-set. Its great having the Moroder version of Cat People (Putting Out Fire) and the full Baal EP on CD, plus the Tony Visconti re-mix of Lodger is fascinating and very different from the original.

The 30th anniversary re-issue of Scalywag Jaz by Thomas Lang brings all the associated tracks from the period, plus live recordings and a couple of new songs, into one package. Its a great value, definitive release for one of the finest albums of the 80s.

Read my full review here.

I also think the remaster of Tango In The Night by Fleetwood Mac deserves a mention at this point. The deluxe version includes some fascinating (high quality) demos, 12″ mixes plus the main album has never sounded so good. Big Love from me for this 2017 reissue. I’m so sorry.

TV and Film

My favourite film in 2017 (although the film was released in 2016 I caught it on bluray this year) was Nocturnal Animals.  Produced and directed by Tom Ford, and starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon, this psychological thriller kept me in a state of unease until the very end of the film.

The TV event of the year for me was by far Twin Peaks: The Return or as it is billed on the bluray, Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series. I was a fan of the original series when it aired on TV in 1990, then fell in love with it again watching the series on its DVD re-issue many years later. I had high hopes for the new series, but after the initial nostalgia fuelled first few minutes, it was clear that Twin Peaks: The Return was going to surpass the original.

It wasn’t perfect, but then neither is life. There were entire sections and episodes that frustrated and baffled, but they were out-weighed by the visceral brutality of some of the characters (new and old) and their actions. This new series took me to places both wonderful and strange, and if this is the end of the Twin Peaks story, I’m so happy that we got to witness the return.

Episode 8 – watched in the early hours (the time it was broadcast in the UK), was one of the most mind-blowing experiences I have ever had. I simply could not believe what I was watching, and I went to work shortly afterwards with a mixture of euphoria and confusion.

As well as the bluray of The Return, there are also two fascinating books from Mark Frost (The Secret History of Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier) to help fill in the blanks and the missing years. What a fine way to spend your Christmas vouchers!

My other favourite TV series of 2017 was HBO’s Big Little Lies. The series starred Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz and Laura Dern, and kept the dark, brutal secret that rumbled through the entire series out of sight to the very end.

Finally, my favourite TV re-issue from 2017 was the blu-ray of Hammer House of Horror: The Complete Series.  The high definition remaster of the ITV series from 1980 features 13 spine-tingling stories starring Peter Cushing, Diana Dors, Denholm Elliott and Brian Cox.

Here’s to a great year of music, film and TV in 2018.





Big Big Train – Merry Christmas

2 12 2017

As my favourite time of the year approaches, I always add my Christmas playlist to my phone. Since the late 80s I’ve not had many new tracks to add to the playlist that includes Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime, Jona Lewie’s timeless Stop The Cavalry, December Will Be Magic Again by Kate Bush, Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses and my favourite festive song of them all, Greg Lakes I Believe In Father Christmas.

front cover by Sarah Louise Ewing

Finally, I have two new songs for my most wonderful time of the year playlist courtesy of Big Big Train. The lead song from the single is Merry Christmas and it follows in the tradition of the aforementioned I Believe In Father Christmas and Stop The Cavalry by being a story with a social conscience.

“When did the ringing of tills drown the pealing of bells?
Who cares as long as the products sell?”

David Longdon’s lyrics are a call to arms – reminding us to forget for a short while our commercialism, our faces stuck staring at our phones and asking us to try to remember the innocence and beauty of our memories of Christmas from the past.

“What wouldn’t you give to believe again, like you believed back then?”

Naturally, the music of Merry Christmas has all that you would expect from a future Christmas classic – a choir, brass band and sleigh bells adorn this gem of a song. Watch the heart-warming video, starring Big Big Train fan Mark Benton, below.

Merry Christmas will become a permanent fixture in my seasonal playlist, right before Greg Lake’s Chrimbo classic. They sound great together, by the way.

The vinyl and CD versions contain another new song, the six minute plus Snowfalls. A hymn to winter, its a wonderful companion piece, and really captures the spirit of the season.

“Tread lightly while snow falls from the clouds carried on the cold winds, from far away.”

Its definitely worth buying the physical version to hear Snowfalls, which could easily have graced any of the bands recent albums.

Pic Simon Hogg

Whilst Merry Christmas is limited to a particular time of the year, the Greg Spawton penned Snowfalls has more longevity. Building slowly, the instrumental layers are added as the song builds. The keyboards give the effect of snow falling throughout the track.

Snowfalls is a recording that highlights the bands effective use of dynamics, from the lightest of touches to the powerful crescendo’s that drive many Big Big Train performances.

In the spirit of charity at Christmas, a donation to the Night Stop homelessness charity will be made for every copy of the vinyl, CD, and download sold. So what are you waiting for – the links are below.

The single tops off a very good year for Big Big Train – with the Grimspound and The Second Brightest Star albums, and a short run of successful live shows.

Let me raise a virtual glass to the band – and here’s to some more new music soon…..

Buy the single (CD / vinyl) from:

Burning Shed
The Merchdesk

CD single from Amazon

Vinyl single from Amazon

Buy the digital version of Merry Christma

https://bigbigtrain.bandcamp.com/








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