The discovery of new music has, for me, taken more of a nosedive than usual this year. A combination of ennui and financial paucity has meant gigs and records have been rather carefully selected and this has meant the tried and tested prevailing over anything new and risky. I leave the discovery of the next big things to young whippersnappers like my good friend Scott Hastie, a colleague from my HND in Radio days, who is doing great things in the radio world. This year he’s managed to unearth 365 albums worthy of our attention while my paltry offering numbered seven. (Two of my list actually made his!)
FAVOURITE NEW ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
My keen anticipation for the TeenCanteen album Say It All With a Kiss (Last Night From Glasgow) was previewed in last year’s music review. I hadn’t looked forward to a new/debut album since, I don’t know, the mid-eighties. In the interests of balance I should declare an interest. My daughter Felicity and I were one of a select number who performed handclaps on the track How We Met (Cherry Pie), which was recorded at the wrap party for the album. We also went on to appear in the video for the song. (Everyone was supposed to wear red but Flick went rogue and wore a yellow dress. You can spot her easily in the video).
The album’s heady mix of girl group harmonies, electropop glitter, bombastic glam rock and bloody good tunes was always going to be hard to beat as my album of 2016, even before it was released. Believe the hype kids.
The musical year began and ended for me with two very different offerings from Scottish bands. Dropkick‘s alt-country powerpop Balance the Light (Sound Asleep) continued the great work of their numerous previous albums. One day they’ll get the big break they deserve. A late contender for my year-end list came from The Laynes, a freakbeat mod band based on the West Coast of Scotland. I’d been aware of their penchant for all things 60s and finally got to see them live in 2012 when they supported Secret Affair. While the headliners disappointed me I found The Laynes to be fabulously tight and energetic. The album Come On Board With The Laynes (KDBS) has been worth the wait and I hope I get to see them live again next year.
My other favoured new releases of the year come from old favourites. Teenage Fanclub continue to plough their own harmonious furrow and release wonderful music as and when their schedules allow. Here (PeMa) was every bit as good as I’d hoped and by the time their UK tour came around many of the tracks had already slotted into the set like old favourites. Another longtime love of mine is The Popguns. Simon and Wendy of the band – Mr and Mrs Pickles, if you’d rather – did their own thing with a side project called The Perfect English Weather. The resulting album Isobar Blues (Matinée) was another joyful pop collection and it continues to get regular airplay chez moi even during the festive period.
Ette, side project of TeenCanteen’s Carla Easton, ably accompanied by Joe Kane, released their Homemade Lemonade album on Olive Grove to much-deserved acclaim.
A special mention to psychedelic funsters The Spooks who released their long overdue second album, The All-Seeing Chelsea Boot, a mere quarter of a century – that’s 25 years in old money – since their fabulous debut With and Without. Never a dull moment with these chaps.
In terms of new singles/downloads, I very much enjoyed Foggy City Orphan‘s Rocket, Linden‘s double A-side Bones/Broken Glass, Jo Mango and Friends‘ Wrack Lines EP on Olive Grove, The Smart Set‘s Together on the Moon, La Bella Luna‘s eponymous EP and, best of all, Ette‘s Attack of the Glam Soul Cheerleaders (parts 1 and 2), also on Olive Grove.
It’s not really surprising that this list exceeds the one above. I spent more time revisiting old favourites and records that had passed me by originally. Here’s some of them:
Squeeze – East Side Story (A&M 1981)
The Shadows – Greatest Hits (Columbia 1963)
Ultravox – The Collection (Chrysalis 1984)
Easterhouse – Contenders (Rough Trade 1985)
Associates – Sulk (WEA 1982)
Billy Bragg – Must I Paint You a Picture: The Essential Billy Bragg (Elektra 2003)
REM – The Best of REM (IRS 1991)
UB40 – Signing Off (Graduate 1980)
Kraftwerk – The Mix (KlingKlang/EMI 1991)
Simple Minds – New Gold Dream 81-82-83-84 (Virgin 1982)
Julian Cope – Floored Genius: The Best of Julian Cope and the Teardrop Explodes 1979-1991 (Island 1992)
Kate Bush – The Kick Inside (EMI 1978)
The Sundays – Reading, Writing and Arithmetic (Rough Trade 1990)
Prefab Sprout – Swoon (Kitchenware 1984)
Dr Hook – Greatest Hits (Capitol 1980)
Psychedelic Furs – Greatest Hits (Columbia 2001)
Black – Wonderful Life (A&M 1987)
The Lotus Eaters – No Sense of Sin (Arista 1984)
Allo Darlin’ – Allo Darlin’ (Fortuna Pop 2010)
Talk Talk – Natural History: The Very Best of Talk Talk (Parlophone 1990)
The Lemonheads – The Best of the Lemonheads: The Atlantic Years (Atlantic 1998)
Friends Again – Trapped and Unwrapped (Mercury 1984)
There would’ve been others too but these are the ones that stuck in my memory. For the first three months of the year Flick and I listened to nothing but David Bowie to the point where she knows the words better than I do.
I do love a good compilation and here are some of the ones from this year that I really enjoyed.
Love and Affection: More Motown Girls (Ace)
John Savage’s 1966: The Year The Decade Exploded (Ace)
Where The Girls Are Volume 9 (Ace)
Toujours Chic! (Ace)
Love Hit Me: Decca Beat Girls 1962-1970 (Ace)
Scratch My Back!: Pye Beat Girls (Ace)
Here Today!: The Songs of Brian Wilson (Ace)
That’s a lot of Ace records. Literally.
The financial constraints brought about by unemployment and no entitlement to any kind of benefits (thanks DWP) meant gigging, as well as record buying, was cut to a minimum this year.
Three trips to see TeenCanteen, including album launches at either end of the M8, brought my tally for seeing them to 16. They now lie third behind One Thousand Violins (21 gigs) and BMX Bandits (18, including Duglas solo). With BMX Bandits and TeenCanteen playing together in Paisley in January there’s a good chance that either or both will overtake the Violins at some point in 2017. They have been top of my gig-going pile since 1989.
My first gig of 2016 was Tom Hingley in the less than salubrious setting of a pub in Cowdenbeath. His two-set offering of Inspiral Carpets favourites proved what a great catalogue they had. He also threw in some blues covers, which seemed a bit out-of-place.
April saw Frightened Rabbit hit Dunfermline. I’m not particularly a fan but a friend had a spare ticket. It was okay and the assembled hordes loved them but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. As mentioned earlier Teenage Fanclub returned with a new album and did two tours in support of it. One small one with a handful of dates and then a larger one later in the year. The Edinburgh gig in September was the perfect time to take Felicity to her first proper sweaty club-type gig, with the Liquid Rooms having the honour. Such a shame it was so unbearably hot. Despite being in an airy part of the balcony it was absolutely boiling. It was an under 14s gig but at 5’6″ Flick enjoyed a rite of passage in getting in underage (my first proper gig was when I was 17). A proud moment. I also saw the Fannies later on in December with my friend Phil. The place was rammed and it was hit after hit after hit. Okay not ‘chart’ hits but you know what I mean. The place was crawling with old friends and you couldn’t move for indie pop stars.
In any other year the Fannies Barrowlands show would’ve been gig of the year. But there was one gig in August that would’ve taken some beating. It was also the first gig of the year that Felicity and I went to together. It was no ordinary gig and in no ordinary venue or country.
Felicity is goalkeeper for Bayside Girls and her team had been invited to take part in the Norway Cup in Oslo, the biggest children’s tournament in the world. As soon as we signed up in October for the tournament I checked the What’s On guides for Oslo to see if any other events were taking place during the week of the Norway Cup in August. There was one stand-out event or should I say eight. Kraftwerk had announced they were playing eight albums, over eight gigs, in four days and all in 3D. The venue was to be the Operahuset, a beautiful building which would be five minutes walk from our chosen hotel. Taking into account the days on which Flick would be playing football, as well as other planned activities and also which albums the band would be playing we plumped for The Mix, which was a kind of greatest hits and a good starting point for Flick to learn about the German electro giants. I was worried that Flick might not enjoy it or be bored or not ‘get it’ but I needn’t have because she said it was “amazing”. Robots was her particular favourite. When we got back to the hotel we FaceTimed my wife, pretending to be robots. I guess you had to be there.
The usual domestic commitments mean that I can’t listen to all of these shows every week/month etc but I enjoy them regularly enough to list them as amongst my best of the year.
Sound of the Sixties (Radio 2)
Andrew Collins’ Saturday Night at the Movies (Classic FM)
Lauree McArdle’s Spin Cycle (WERA-LP 97.6 FM Arlington, Virginia)
The Earl Okin Show
John Cavanagh’s Soundwave (Radio Six International)
Pete Paphides on Soho Radio
Forgotten 80s (Absolute 80s)
Paul Brown’s Curiosity Shoppe (Mixcloud)
The year ended with some good news for me in that I’ll be working part-time as a support worker for a blind radio producer/presenter so my foot will be back in the door of radio, albeit a toe at a time so no doubt I’ll be listening to more radio.
The only music televsion I watched regularly this year was the Top of the Pops repeats on BBC Four. Due to the issues surrounding the behaviour of certain presenters ‘back in the day’ many episodes have not been broadcast so the shows can jump leap ahead, missing out weeks. We still get to see messrs Read, Vance, Bates, Jensen and, unfortunately, Peter Powell, who was the Richard Madeley of the day. I dare you to watch one of the shows fronted by him and not shout obscenitites at the screen. Go on, try it. I should add the early broadcast of the show is edited so it’s best to watch the full length repeated edition, which goes out early in the morning. You should also watch them while following the @TOTPFacts on Twitter, which is a wonderful service by Ian Berriman providing all manner of facts about those performing on that week’s show. It isn’t just taken off Wikipedia. The shows also confirm, as if you didn’t know, that Modern Romance were crap.
So that was my musical 2016. A small and perfectly formed selection of where my musical head was at. I’ll have missed out some stuff and may add it in as and when it comes to me.
The main overriding musical talking point in 2016, however, was the loss of so much musical talent. Actually, that’s a major understatement. The list was endless… David Bowie, Glenn Frey (The Eagles), Colin Vearncombe (aka Black), Signe Toly Anderson (Jefferson Airplane), Terry Wogan, Maurice White (Earth, Wind and Fire), George Martin, Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, Prince, Billy Paul, Guy Clark, Scotty Moore, Prince Buster, Pete Burns (Dead or Alive), Bobby Vee, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell and Greg Lake amongst others. God bless them all and thank you for the music.