Blog Sound of 2016

The Blog Sound of 2016 is a poll of UK-based bloggers to determine the most popular and favourite emerging acts among those polled. As a UK-based blog, Record Rewind Play was invited to take part (well, it was an open invite, and we jumped at the opportunity) this year and we submitted the names of three artists we love and for whom we wish nothing more than success, riches and critical acclaim in 2016. Nothing more.

And the exciting news is that none of our picks made it onto the longlist. Ho-hum.

And so, on to the list anyway, with some introductory words from Robin @ Breaking More Waves, who created and runs the poll:

The aim of the Blog Sound of poll is identical to the BBC Sound Of list; it attempts to showcase new and emerging artists, but it differs in so far as many of the voting bloggers do not work in the music industry, they are simply fans who have a passion for writing about the music they love. In previous years the Blog Sound poll has identified a number of acts such as Alt-J and Bastille that didn’t feature on the BBC list, and has been slightly ahead of the game, featuring the likes of Wolf Alice a year before they appeared on the BBC Sound of list. Each year there is also some cross-over with the BBC list and this year is no exception. For the 2016 poll 58 music blogs each voted for their 3 favourite acts and the top 15 of those acts form the Blog Sound of 2015 longlist. To qualify for a vote any act chosen must not have had a UK top 20 single or album, either in their own right or as a named collaborator prior to 6th November 2015.

Here’s some of the data from the voting:

  • This year 142 acts received at least 1 vote from the 174 total votes cast, showing that the UK music blog scene has a wide range of taste.
  • This years voting was the closest and broadest ever – the winning act only received votes from 8.5% of the 58 voters.
  • The vast majority of acts chosen were UK based even although the bloggers could choose acts from any part of the world. There are no American acts on the list, although there are acts from other European countries.
  • One of the acts on this years longlist (Mt Wolf) already featured on the the Blog Sound of 2014 poll, but then promptly split up. Now reformed they find themselves once again on the Blog Sound of 2016 list.
  • 5 of the acts on the BBC Sound of 2016 also appear on the Blog Sound of poll, namely Billie Marten, Loyle Carner, Mabel, Mura Masa and Nao.
  • Jack Garratt, winner of the BBC Introducing Award, Brits Critics Choice Award and a nominee on the BBC Sound of Poll didn’t receive one vote from the voting blogs, even although he qualified. However, last year Garratt almost made the Blog Sound of 2015 poll, missing it by just one single vote and finishing in sixteenth position. This is probably because bloggers no longer consider Garratt as emerging.

You can listen to a track from each artist on the longlist above. To help you filter, we’ve appraised them all:

Aquilo – The kind of Oh Wonder-like downtempo electropop that we’re rather partial to, as it happens.

Aurora – Norwegian singer who you shouldn’t hate for being involved in the creeping John Lewis soppification of Christmas.

Billie Marten – Yorkshire based acoustic singer songwriter.

George Cosby – The next big “oh, you’re into this sort of thing, aren’t you?” thing.

Haelos – Remember Temptation by Heaven 17? This is that, millennialised. Not saying that’s a bad thing, you understand.

Liss – The bad thing. The song you always skipped on early Now! compilations.

Loyle Carner – Sweary spoken-word. Potty-mouthed poetry.

Mabel – Slick. Neneh Cherry’s daughter, doncha know.

Mura Masa – Sorry, I popped into the other room to make a coffee while this was on. There were bleeps and a violin, though, I’ll tell you that.

Mt. Wolf – featured on a previous poll, split up, reformed, and now have their second Blog Sound nomination. To my eternal shame I was supposed to cover this single recently, but time has not been my ally. Simultaneously my favourite on the list and the least likely to be headlining the O2 this time next year.

Nao – Capturing with perfect precision the twenty-first century penchant for writing and recording a perfectly decent song and then fucking with it until it’s more or less unlistenable if your ears are old enough to drive.

Pleasure Beach – When they first popped into my inbox they were described as Bastille vs The XX, which was enough for me to move on. I was right. See George Cosby, above.

The Big Moon – Proving that I’m a big fat hypocrite, this shares traits with acts I’m happy to be casually bitchy towards, and yet it reels me in. Maybe it’s a female vocal thing. Maybe it’s a gently understated undulating melody thing. Maybe it’s not a thing at all.

The Japanese House – For a moment I thought I was going crazy – so sure I’d posted about The Japanese House, but found nothing on the website. And then I remembered I’d included a track as an early newsletter exclusive (Sign up, by the way). The track featured here, Still, was Zane Lowe’s last ever “hottest track” before he left Radio 1. One for the fact fans, there.

Yak – Raucous pysch rock. The good stuff, even if it’s not something I’d reach for very often.

The most voted for and top 5 acts on this longlist will be revealed on the 5th January 2016.

So there you have it. Fifteen acts I didn’t vote for, none of which make me think I should have thought harder. But that’s my problem, not yours. And not The Blog Sound of 2016’s. Maybe I’m very far behind the curve. Maybe I’m very ahead of it. Or perhaps I’m just to the side of the curve, looking askance.

The most striking feature of the vote is this: the spread is very thin. 174 votes were cast, for 142 different acts. The winning artist received votes from 5 blogs. This is a very similar picture to last year, when 62 blogs cast 186 votes, and 148 artists picked up votes. In a draft post I wrote twelve months ago but never published, I crunched the numbers and decided:

It seems overwhelmingly possible, in fact, that some of the longlisted artists received just two nominations.

I even made a spreadsheet with a projection of how many votes each artist might have received.

I know.

This year, it’s a similar story. In the spirit of those books of logic problems you used to buy from WH Smith in railway stations, we know that 174 votes were cast, and 142 artists received votes. We also know the winning artist received 5 votes. This means that a maximum of 29 artists received more than one vote, and at least 113 received only one vote. That’s pretty diffuse – and this is no Ballon D’or either, it’s not like you have a potentially wide voting spread but a small number of obvious front-runners. On the plus-side: Breaking More Waves is no FIFA: a corruption scandal seems highly unlikely here.

It also means, I think, that at least two of the fifteen artists in the longlist received just two votes. What I’m saying is that there’s a cigarette paper between some of the names on the longlist and all of the top choices of the bloggers now sitting at home reading the longlist and wondering why their picks aren’t on it.

In a narrow sense, then, the Blog Sound of 2016 longlist doesn’t really represent the 58 blogs that voted. Last year I concluded that at least 23 blogs voted for artist no-one else voted for. The same is probably true this year. Going against my logical grain, and hazarding a guess, I’d suggest that no more than half of the voting blogs voted for one of the artists on the longlist.

But please don’t take this as a moany criticism. I’m certainly not suggesting the rest of us might as well have not bothered. In a wider sense, we are all represented by the poll. If not in the names on the longlist, then by the remarkable number of artists we all voted for. To me it doesn’t show that there’s a vast ocean of mediocrity out there, it shows that there’s a vast ocean of possibility: just as the Best Album Of The Year lists flooding the internet at this time of year represent a chance to discover albums you’ve overlooked or never heard of, the votes from all the blogs listed below, when they are published, will give everyone a chance to discover some new names. And, in the closing words of last year’s unpublished post, updated by a year:

You might like them, and want to write about them, and before you know it they’re getting a little bit more known, and maybe they’ll end up in the Blog Sound of 2017 longlist, in whatever form it happens to take.

The blogs that voted in this years poll were:

A Pocket Full Of Seeds, A World Of Music And Madness, Across The Kitchen Table, Alphabet Bands, Beat Surrender, Bratfaced LDN, Breaking More Waves, Brighton Music Blog, Buzz Unlimited, Cruel Rhythm, Chord Blossom, Daisy Digital, Dive, Details Of My Life, Dots And Dashes, Drunken Werewolf, Digital Shuffle, Echoes And Dust, Electronic Rumors, Encore Northern Island, Even The Stars, Faded Glamour, Get Into This, Get Some, God Is In The TV, I Love Pie, Just Music I Like, Kemptation, Killing Moon, Little Indie Blogs, Love Music: Love Life, Metaphorical Boat, Monkey Boxing, Music Liberation, Music Like Dirt, Music Umpire, Neon Filler, Not Many Experts, Popped Music, Pursuit Of Sound, Rave Child, Record Rewind Play, Scientists Of Sound, Some Of It Is True, Spectral Nights, Sweeping The Nation, Synth Glasgow, The Blue Walrus, The Devil Has The Best Tuna, The Electricity Club, The Evening’s Empire, The Mad Mackerel, The VPME, This Must Be Pop, Thoughts On Music, Too Many Blogs, What If I Had A Music Blog, When The Gramophone Rings

Turin Brakes Interview – Olly Knights talks about new album “Lost Property”

Back in June I left you in suspense with just a few choice questions that I had selected from an interview I had done with Olly Knights from Turin Brakes. Well, the time has come to let you in on the full interview piece as there is now breaking news on the release date of the band’s new album.

They posted a short and sweet video teaser online last week accompanied by the hashtag #TBLostProperty and mentioning today (Monday).  It is now confirmed that Lost Property is the title of album number seven.  The Turin Brakes website has been updated this morning noting that the album will be released on 29 January 2016 and currently you can pre-order a variety of bundles online including CD’s, LP’s and signed prints.  No news on any tour dates as yet, but fingers crossed this might be announced in due course.

The last studio album, We Were Here, was released in late 2013, so the new material will no doubt be excitedly received.  I spoke to Olly earlier this year and asked him what we could expect with the new album. This is what he said:

So, how did it feel to be back in the studio and at Rockfield of all places?

It was actually great, we worried it would feel too similar to the We Were Here sessions, but as always it took on its own identity as did the music.

Has the creation of the new album been a labour of love or did you find it an easy task?

We’ve done more pre-recording work than ever this time. We spent about three months in my little garden studio playing and playing and playing all the new ideas until we knew what really felt great to play together, so important! Once we de-camped to Rockfield we had barely enough time to get through all the epic material, but somehow we did it by the skin of our teeth.  Ali Staton our co-producer/engineer virtually gave up sleeping to get it done!

You have something of a reputation as a band that sounds different on every record – what can we expect this time?  Is this likely to be a return to your folk roots or a side-step into pastures new?

I’d say it’s more of a pastures new type of record, but with all the experience of what happens when we leave our comfort zone thrown in.  It’s unmistakably TB, but with some new twists and turns both sonically but also deep down in the routes of the songwriting.  We wanted to go straight for the jugular on many songs, so working out what the real point the song was trying to make was either lyrically or musically and then making damn sure it makes it!

Is it a conscious effort to change your sound or just a natural progression for your music?

A bit of both. It’s almost impossible for new identities not to be forged every time we commit to an album, everything is changing all the time including Turin Brakes. However we are much more aware these days of our “legacy” and often discuss the virtues of protecting it or the opposite.

You’ve spoken to me before about selecting the right track as a lead single when you release a new piece of work. How’s that panning out this time?

We’re being very grown up about it, we know there is this enormous monster called UK radio that comes into play (whether we like it or not). So we’ve seen it as an artistic challenge to create a few things that could work really REALLY well in that world, but that doesn’t betray what we feel is our identity as a band. I can’t predict what will happen, but it will be very interesting I hope. I like to think that if we get it right the fans will be happy.

You did a large tour when your last album “We Were Here” was released in 2013. Any plans to tour with the new album and if so on what sort of scale?

Always, but it’s too far away to know the details yet.

I enjoyed watching the short and sweet video clips you posted on Twitter of your time in the studio, although they were somewhat frustrating! Is it an easy relationship for you all to work together in that environment? Does someone usually take the lead?

We’ve gotten pretty good at working together, but there sure is pressure, from us and from time mainly. We have had to become experts at it or else we’d never have made it this long. We all have our ways of behaving, positive, negative, slow, fast but I see it very philosophically, essential parts of a musical whole. Having said that I am of course usually right about everything, ahem!

Your lyrics always seem to me to be very personal. Do you find writing new songs easy?

They are always born from my experience of life so I’m not sure if they could be anything other than personal, but I always keep an audience in mind. I really don’t enjoy music that doesn’t seem to care for its audience and is primarily self-therapy. I want someone’s truth, but I want it presented with intelligence and a little distance, so we can all get somewhere new I guess.

Is there a central theme for this album and if so can you enlighten us on what it is?

It’s all too close at the moment to sum up, but I keep seeing threads, repeated ideas and images. If “We Were Here” was a little outer space obsessed then this stuff seems to be inner space obsessed, “when we turn the telescopes from the sky to within” is a lyrical example. I enjoy the notion that inner space can be just as vast and curious as the big black and is in fact inseparable from it, a universe on the tip of every finger. These things get smashed together with the poetry of the everyday on the new album.

This will be studio album seven. Does it get harder to be creative after all this time or does your inspiration become easier with experience?

No it gets easier, what gets harder is dealing with your own history.  We had the wonderful curse of being told excessively that the very first thing we did was our best work and could never be eclipsed, how do you carry on from there? We plough ahead because we can’t really help it and most of the time we love what we do.

What are your hopes for this album?

I’d love to see the music reach a wider audience again, it’s been a while. I’m not embarrassed about the idea of making music that resonates with lots of people, just as long as it’s bloody great. It’s nice to feel your building something rather than just cruising I guess.

From a solo point of view, do you have any plans to write and record a second album?

I do, but it keeps not happening.  We were quite busy co-writing even during “down time”, but at some point new ideas will saturate my being and I will have to get them out before they evaporate, because they do.

We’re planning a Turin Brakes day on the Record, Rewind, Play site to coincide with the album release (if possible). The hardcore element of this means a day of listening to your entire back catalogue and writing a review of each of the albums! What album of yours is your personal favourite to listen back to and why?

I enjoy Ether Song a lot because it’s such an expressive and brave sounding record. When I think about how much pressure was on us at the time to repeat and eclipse the debut I’m proud of our slightly left turn that we made into artistic and edgier territory. I mean it’s hilarious that we sometimes get described as this sort of “soft acoustic duo making nicey nicey folk to forget” have you heard “Little Brother” or “Panic Attack” lately? Think again!

And finally, just out of interest, what other artists are you enjoying listening to at the moment?  Any recommendations?

I have a stack of vinyl from Laura Marling, Jessica Pratt, The Staves, burning a hole in my conscious at the moment.  It’s safe to say my leaning towards strong female artists hasn’t lost its drive. Still looking for the next Joni Mitchell I guess.

Massive thanks to Olly for taking the time to answer my questions and I do hope this has given a little bit of an insight about we can expect from the new material.  The release of a new record is always an exciting time for the fans and no doubt there will be lots of interest around this album coming out.  Head over to Ether Site to keep up to date with any news and I’m sure we will be sharing a review of the album here in due course.

Inchoate Observations On The State Of Things

In case you didn’t already notice it from the army of bulldozers clawing mercilessly at the cultural landscape, today’s giddy feeding frenzy is pretty much the perfect storm as far as the great minds behind Global Release day are concerned. A day on which one song by one artist can generate more conversation than a thousand underground musicians. This is event culture: music as commodity. It’s exciting, like a new coke flavour.

This is 2015.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

A world in which newer is always equated with better, and newest therefore always means best. A world in which national TV hosts tell you how excited they are to introduce the next fabulous special guest and their fantastic new single (and you’re going on tour, aren’t you? Tell us about that, why don’t you) even though the hyperbole is completely redundant because the PR and booking system has been calculated to within a fraction of a degree on the clapometer, such that you know the audience (and the audience of millions at home – how exciting is this!) will match their seal-claps (unpaid) to the smile of the presenter (paid) and star (2% extra sales per degree of whiteness).

It’s a hit from me!

Well that’s going to be massive. Of course it is, when the system demands and designs massive hits. When the soundtrack for mainstream cultural events must contain nothing but known, bankable quantities. That one you like is on Graham Norton again Mum! Before a song is released, it is set to become the soundtrack of the summer. According to its creators and their friends, who just happen to be taste-makers-in-chief.

And then the backlash. God! The inevitable, soul-sucking backlash. Can’t sing, can’t write. Talentless. Overhyped. Cynical posts on blogs everywhere (ahem).

So wrong, so much of the time, and nothing more than a conscious and very deliberate rejection of the premise, the setup: a refusal to be told. But understandable: when critical appreciation is non-existent, or irrelevant at best, you can’t simply add a voice to the discussion. How do you introduce considered opinion into vacuity? Why bother? So hey, why not just write about it anyway, and if you can’t in truthful honesty say something good, stick to the facts and ask your readers what they think. That way you can still be part of the conversation (phew!) while distancing yourself from the noise. Better to be inside the tent, pissing out, eh? Is it me, or is it really crowded in here, and why does “outside” look just like a slightly bigger tent?

Ah. But, you say, what happens when the star releases something disappointing?

Talk to me about how that happens. Too many people have too much invested, directly and indirectly, in a successful release. Remember, newer always means better. Not only that, but sometimes when it’s not good, it’s better than that: it’s good enough. If expectations were lower, it would be released differently. There is no hope here, only dread certainty. The certainty of millions of units, and the certainty that you will be listening in the days and weeks to come, no matter what.

What Have The 1960s Ever Done For Me?

There’s a myth in the nostalgia industry that paints each decade in different colours. Reality is rather more blended. The 1960s witnessed great change, socially and culturally: by the middle of the decade, four-fifths of UK homes had a television, and they had shows like Ready Steady Go! and Top of the Pops to watch. It was even OK now to borrow your servant’s copy of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”. But just as the world didn’t suddenly become neon-lit and full of yuppies and shoulder pads the moment the last chimes of 1979 were heard, neither did London become a swinging flash mob twenty years earlier. And no, everybody was not too busy discovering sex…

Take the first number one album of the 1960s, The Explosive! Freddy Cannon, by Freddy Cannon. It was the first time in the UK that an album by (that 1950s creation) a rock ‘n roll singer had topped the charts. “The greatest decade in the history of mankind” had begun with what now seems a throwback, its style and joyful abandon utterly modern in its day, but now closer in tone to the music hall era, where some of its tracks had originated, than any present day rockism.

Some time passed, roughly ten years in fact, before the decade closed, appropriately given their cultural dominance of the day, with The Beatles atop the charts. Although Abbey Road wasn’t the final Beatles studio album to be released, it did mark the last time the four were all fab and recording together. Earlier that year they’d made their famous rooftop appearance, the band’s last public performance.

And when the decade was over, The Beatles had scored 10 of its 13 biggest selling albums. No other artist got close: only the soundtracks to The Sound of Music, South Pacific and West Side Story outsold any albums by The Beatles in the 1960s. It’s no wonder people have long agreed that we’ll never see the like of it again.

Which is absolutely fine by me.

Whether it’s Monopoly or 50 Shades of Grey, I can’t stand a runaway leader. It’s just not possible for that one thing to be so outstandingly brilliant in its field that it naturally and rightfully kicks all competition to the kerb. Magnified through the rose-tinted spy-glass of time, you end up with a cultural landscape that appears blandly homogenous. Take 1966, the year London did finally swinging, the year a World Cup victory was achieved. In 1966, a total of four albums topped the chart. Four! They were: The Soundtrack to The Sound of Music, Aftermath by The Rolling Stones, and Rubber Soul and Revolver by The Beatles. And you thought 1991 was a tiresome struggle, with Bryan Adams taking up most of the summer and autumn on top of the singles chart, and Simply Red on their way to having the best selling album two years in a row with Stars. 1967 wasn’t much better – you had The Monkees (two albums), The Sound of Music (again), Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (for half the year), and Mr Val Doonican (Val Doonican Rocks, but Gently).

So, not a lot of variety, and a runaway leader.

The other thing I can’t stand is being told what to like, and there’s an awful lot of that about when it comes to the ’60s. Eat your greens, learn your musical history, respect the icons, it’s all derivative, that modern music, it’s all been done before you know, and better. What do you mean you don’t like The Velvet Undergound? And what’s that enormous elephant doing in here?

Ah, yes. I was coming to that.

You see, I own Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Of course I do: it’s a statistical inevitability given the size of my album collection. I also have a copy of Rubber Soul, although I’ve listened to it maybe twice. And yes, Revolver is in there, too. And I love it.

After I got into the madchester scene and baggy indie in the early 90s I found “She Said She Said” on Revolver, and my mind was, to use the modern parlance, a little bit blown. it seemed to so perfectly encapsulate the sound I loved, with its percussion bouncing all over the place, the constant presence of that lead guitar melody, and lyrics you could drop seamlessly into any number of indie-pop hits.

And then Revolver goes and closes with “Tomorrow Never Knows”, and Freddy Cannon, kicked to the kerb, lies in the gutter looking up at the stars, wondering which gave birth to the new sound. They appear to be dancing, laughing, but it could just be the LSD talking. And while I’m feeling confessional, The Blue Album and The Red Album (I much preferred the latter) were among the tapes in my Dad’s collection that I most frequently played. Nothing quite matched a Buddy Holly compilation, I found, but since tragedy took him in February 1959 he’s not a part of this story other than for us to wonder what might have been, what his incredible talent could have stretched to, and how pop music could have been his to shape for years to come.

But apart from The Beatles, what have the 1960s ever done for me?

My confused feelings about the 1960s are best summed up by a compilation album I bought, probably in about 1990 or 1991, seduced no doubt by the budget price. Top Ten Hits of the 60s was a 1988 album released on the Music For Pleasure label. It contains 16 hits of the decade, by artists ranging from The Animals (“House of the Rising Sun”), The Hollies (“Look Through Any Window”), The Beach Boys (“Do It Again”) to the hippy sounds of The Flower Pot Men (“Let’s Go To San Francisco”), and not one but two appearances each by Cliff Richard and The Shadows – together on “In The Country”, and separately with “The Twelfth of Never” and “FBI”.

Yes, that’s two Cliff Richard appearances. Whether or not he appears on either of the Now! compilations I own that puts him, in terms of number of tracks I’ve bought, ahead of The Velvet Underground and The Who. Until last year it would have put him ahead of Marvin Gaye.

For no discernible reason of continuity The Temperence Seven’s 1961 number four hit Pasadena is also included. A nine-piece who based their sound around old-time jazz, they rose during the trad-jazz revival and were sunk along with so many others by the Beatles behemoth.

So, apart from misjudged cheapo compilation purchases and Revolver, what have the 1960s ever done for me?

Well, there’s this, for starters:

If you don’t know The Box Tops, and despite the huge success of “The Letter” in 1967 it’s possible you don’t, the kid out front is Alex Chilton, later to become lead singer of Big Star, a band second in influence only to The Velvet Underground, and who I found through listening to Teenage Fanclub and from seeing their name referenced by the likes of Michael Stipe.

And then there’s some of my favourite albums – albums I’ve been listening to since I started exploring beyond the scattergun and feeble offerings of Top Ten Hits of the 60s, like Astral Weeks (1968) and Blonde on Blonde (1966). Songs that never seem to grow old, like “Wichita Lineman” (Glen Campbell, 1968), “She’s Not There” (The Zombies, 1965), “San Francisco” (Scott McKenzie, 1967), “Castles in the Sand” (Jimi Hendrix, 1968) and “California Soul” (Marlena Shaw, 1969).

There are artists that have grown old, but whose music from the 60s can still electrify, like the hard not to love Neil Young, whose ’60s output alone puts many to shame: from Buffalo Springfield…

……to his solo / crazy horse releases

There’s Simon & Garfunkel, who provided in The Graduate (1967) one of the finest movie soundtracks of all time, and whose 1968 song “America” evokes the spirit of frustrated freedom as well as any. I was thrilled in 2003 to see them live, their differences reconciled for long enough to charm audiences once again. They even brought out The Everly Brothers for a mid-set performance, so that was two legendary duos from the 60s in one night.

And there’s Nick Drake, about whom I could write another thousand words (it’s ok, I won’t) without blinking or pausing, and whose debut album Five Leaves Left was released in the Summer / Autumn of 1969. I was handed a copy of Drake’s third and final album Pink Moon (1972) by a friend at school one day. He wasn’t a friend I can ever remember talking about music with, he just handed me this CD with the words “I think you’ll like this”. He was right, but I don’t think he could have anticipated the extent of the obsession he was helping to create.

It still feels like a select shortlist, but every time I think about it, I think of ways to lengthen it. And this is really only a snapshot of a decade based on the parts that I’ve fallen in love with at one time or another. And it’s not just strictly limited to music. As well as The Graduate, there’s the emergence of James Bond on screen through the decade, and Lindsay Anderson’s “If….”, a tale of anarchic rebellion set in a public school. This in turn led me to the fascinating Missa Luba, the Sanctus from which features prominently in the film.

I’d always had this feeling that the 1970s had more influence on my musical soul, but I’m less certain of this now. True, the influence on my ’90s and future indie tastes seemed to flow more from that decade: Big Star were active in the 1970s; it was arguably Neil Young’s greatest decade; ’60s David Bowie had little impact compared to his later output. And yet, there are moments when the 1960s creeps in. There are nods to it in a lot of jangly indie-pop and Britpop, and even instances of overt mimicry: compare “You Don’t Understand” by The House of Love (1992) with “I’m a Man” by The Spencer Davis Group (1967) or “In The Country” (1966) with “Wrapped up in Books” from Belle & Sebastian’s 2003 album Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Krautrock, which has inspired wave after wave of new music, was a 70s innovation, but one with some links back to the 60s: like Bowie and Young, Can released their first album before the decade was out. Stevie Wonder, whose Songs in the Key of Life has been a favourite of mine since being turned on to it by Giles Smith, had already had nine Top 40 hits in the UK by the end of the 60s. Those hits include “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”, a Motown classic that still sounds dazzling and fresh 50 years on. You can make the same claim for many of the classic Northern Soul sounds that I adore.

So what HAVE the 60s ever done for me? Apart from give me one of my favourite films, one of my favourite soundtracks, one of my favourite artists, a great part of my musical education growing up, and starts for other artists who would go on to influence the music I listen to for decades to come, that is?

Well, nothing, really.

Note: This piece was originally written for and appeared on Music vs. The World, in April 2015.

New Turin Brakes Album – Interview with Olly Knights

Turin Brakes went back into the studio earlier this year which caused much excitement for us fans as it meant that hopefully a new album was in production.  They teased us mercilessly on Twitter by uploading Vines of what they were up to and have pretty much kept us in suspense ever since.

Their last album We Were Here was released in late 2013 to good reviews and was their sixth studio outing.  Signed to Cooking Vinyl, the album was recorded at Rockfield Studios and engineered and mixed by Ali Staton.  One of their Twitter posts showed that they had returned once more to Rockfield, so clearly something was afoot.

Deciding to use this as an opportunity to find out more about what was happening, I spoke to Olly Knights and asked him if he would answer some questions about the possible new album.  He was kind enough to do so, and he also updated me on the current situation with the production.

Turin Brakes 1Firstly, the good news.  There is a new album in the pipeline!  But secondly, the bad news is that it’s not ready for release yet and it probably won’t be until next year.  I’m sure other fans like myself were hoping that some new material would be available this year, but it seems we will have to wait just a bit longer.  I wouldn’t be too disappointed though as it just means that we have a lot to look forward to in 2016, and I for one am still very excited.

As the interview I did with Olly is mainly around the new album, I have decided that I won’t be posting it in full until the album is due for release.  See, something else for you to look forward to!  I am, however going to give you a little pre-empt of the full interview by posting six choice questions and answers now.  Hopefully this will whet your appetite and keep you intrigued and excited about what’s to come.


So, how did it feel to be back in the studio and at Rockfield of all places?

It was actually great, we worried it would feel too similar to the “We Were Here” sessions, but as always it took on its own identity as did the music.

Has the creation of the new album been a labour of love or did you find it an easy task?

We’ve done more pre-recording work than ever this time. We spent about three months in my little garden studio playing and playing and playing all the new ideas until we knew what really felt great to play together, so important! Once we de-camped to Rockfield we had barely enough time to get through all the epic material, but somehow we did it by the skin of our teeth.  Ali Staton our co-producer/engineer virtually gave up sleeping to get it done!

What can we expect this time as you have something of a reputation as a band that sounds different on every record?  It this likely to be a return to your folk roots or a side step into pastures new?

I’d say it’s more of a pastures new type of record, but with all the experience of what happens when we leave our comfort zone thrown in.  It’s unmistakably TB, but with some new twists and turns both sonically but also deep down in the roots of the songwriting.  We wanted to go straight for the jugular on many songs, so working out what the real point the song was trying to make was either lyrically or musically and then making damn sure it makes it!

What are your hopes for this album?

I’d love to see the music reach a wider audience again, it’s been a while. I’m not embarrassed about the idea of making music that resonates with lots of people, just as long as it’s bloody great…. It’s nice to feel your building something rather than just cruising I guess.

From a solo point of view, do you have any plans to write and record a second album?

I do, but it keeps not happening.  We were quite busy co-writing even during “down time”, but at some point new ideas will saturate my being and I will have to get them out before they evaporate, because they do.

And finally, just out of interest, what other artists are you enjoying listening to at the moment?  Any recommendations?

I have a stack of vinyl from Laura Marling, Jessica Pratt, The Staves, burning a hole in my conscious at the moment.  It’s safe to say my leaning towards strong female artists hasn’t lost its drive… Still looking for the next Joni Mitchell I guess.

And that’s it.  But only for now!  Hopefully this has given a little bit of insight into what we can expect with the upcoming new album.  The full interview will be posted in due course when we hear more on the release date.  So stay tuned as trust me, there is still a lot more to come.

Music and Memory

I’m not someone who necessarily looks that deeply into how music is produced or even conceived, although I possibly should bearing in mind that I was studying to be a sound engineer many moons ago. That dream sadly never came to fruition, but being the inquisitive person that I am, I still have a fascination with all things music and am resigned to understanding it as best as I can. I am currently reading the book “How Music Works” by the brilliant David Byrne and am looking forward to gaining some insight into this world via his prose. In the meantime though, my mind is still actively questioning.

I was recently on a train journey to London and, as always, I was carrying my trusty notebook and pen so I could write down anything that came into my mind as a possible new article. Staring out of the window and seeing the familiar scenery approaching the outskirts of London, I remembered growing up there and had various other memories of days gone by. I then had an idea. So into my notebook I wrote the words [albumtitle:“music and memory or association”. ]I also wrote some other bits and bobs around this and did a bit of googling. It was the start of a train of thought (literally) and the thought was this. Why does music link to memory and what does this mean?

We all have certain songs that are related to events in our lives. For example, when people get married they have a first dance and this song then becomes intrinsically important to their lives from then on. It will always be “our song” because of that. You may remember that a specific track was playing the first time you saw “x” across a crowded dance floor and suddenly realised that you wanted to spend the rest of your life with them. It may well be why “Saturday Night” by Whigfield means so much to you, but who am I to judge?

Anyway, this thought also reminded me of a recent radio show that I had been listening to where the host, Claire, asked folks to get in touch and tell her which song related to various events in your life like your first crush, when you were a teenager or when you left home etc. I had a ponder and ended up joining in. This also got me reminiscing about when I was younger and the various reasons why my songs choices were important to me. Claire had asked for the song that represented your first crush and mine was “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” by Sugar. The reason I picked this song is because it was on a mixtape that my first real crush made for me when I was about 19. It’s still a firm favourite with me and I have to say that when I listen to it now I am always reminded of him. It’s quite odd really as I haven’t seen him in person for nearly 20 years, but when I hear the jangly guitar of this track I can see his face as clear as day. And that’s what makes the link between music and association so very interesting.

Also in my notes was a line that said ‘Glenn T – cowboy films’. I’m sure this will mean absolutely nothing to you, so let me try to explain my thinking around this bizarre notation. I am a big fan of the band Squeeze and in particular Glenn Tilbrook. Glenn has released some solo albums and also recorded a tour video when he travelled around America in an RV. As I was thinking about memory related to music, I recalled Glenn telling a story on his tour video about how when he was a small child he used to like watching cowboy films. Not very interesting so far, but just bear with me. He said that his memories of the films were linked to the sounds he heard in them rather than the picture he’d seen on the screen. He would hear the sound of metal on metal and place this as a cowboy scraping a spoon across a metal plate while eating beans. He did not recall the colours or what was in the background picture, it was all about the sounds that were being made. I find this fascinating.

I read about “Music-related memory” on Wikipedia and the opening paragraph says this:

Musical memory refers to the ability to remember music-related information, such as melodic content and other progressions of tones or pitches. The differences found between linguistic memory and musical memory have led researchers to theorize that musical memory is encoded differently from language and may constitute an independent part of the phonological loop. The use of this term is problematic, however, since it implies input from a verbal system, whereas music is in principle nonverbal.

Interesting stuff, but not really what I was aiming for. Looking at savantism or child prodigies who can play 10 instruments at the age of 6 is a bit beyond me. I also read an article on some new psychology studies around the link between memory and music. Again, not quite what I wanted to delve into, but worth a read none the less. Check it out here.

I think what I am more intrigued about is the relationship between music and how it messes with your emotions. Why does hearing certain pieces of music make you happy or sad and why do we feel the need to attach certain feelings to it? I also wonder why I can remember the lyrics to songs I haven’t heard in years, but I have no idea what I did last week? It’s a strange thing that you can recall all the words to a random song like “Snooker Loopy” by Chas and Dave and yet I can’t remember to pick up milk on the way home. It must perhaps be related to the part of your brain that holds what is basically useless information.

It could be that music is such an emotional tie because it’s more important to certain people. I would class everything music related as a hobby of mine so I am always focused on learning about it, be it a new artist, reading about it or a new way of obtaining songs. Perhaps if you don’t consider this to be an area of interest to you it wouldn’t have such an impact. Although I’m pretty sure that going back to Claire and the song requests on her radio show, that we all have records that mean something to us for whatever reason. It could well be that the bands your grew up with when you first started to take an interest in music have stuck with you throughout your life. I know that I attach my adoration for my hero Neil Finn to the fact that I discovered the music of Crowded House when I was in my teens and at the age where I was looking for something to speak to me about my life. I found that with Neil and his band and he has been something of a constant companion to me ever since.

I used to travel by train a lot in my early twenties and back then I didn’t have my beloved iPod with me as they hadn’t been invented yet (yes I am that old). Instead, I used to take with me my personal CD player and one of those CD holders where you could just carry the discs in a zipped pouch. The effort of picking only a few discs to take along was torture, but I always seemed to have “Ether Song” by Turin Brakes each and every time. When I listen to tracks from that album now, I can still sense those old train journeys from London to Liverpool and I remember how it made me feel. That album is my travelling friend and when the first track “Blue Hour” opens with the drum machine, I associate it with the train pulling out of Euston station and heading up the railway tracks northwards. I haven’t made that particular journey for well over 10 years now, but I’m transported back to those days whenever I play that record.

I suppose it’s easy to say that this is just human nature or memory working in the usual way. The same thing happens with more or less everything around us such as food we’ve eaten at specific places or certain books we’ve read. What makes the link with music so interesting to me though is the feelings that it brings with it. I mean, I can probably recall the first time I tried Chinese food, but it doesn’t really bring out any emotion in me. It was no doubt very nice and I still like it now, but does it make my happy thinking about it? Not really, no. When I hear that song by Sugar playing though, now there’s a completely different story. I find myself smiling and thinking about the person that made me a tape a very long time ago. And that’s the power of music. The images it conjures up and the feelings it brings with it are something wonderful and I really do hope the things I am listening to now will continue to have this effect on me for a very long time to come.

This article originally appeared on Nicola’s own blog.

Is the single a thing of the past?

I wrote recently about the album Dark On Fire by Turin Brakes and made mention that I thought they chose the wrong tracks to be released as singles.  Well, this got me thinking about how a band decides on what tracks they are going to release and whether there is some thought around album tracks that perhaps were overlooked at the time.  You know, those songs you hear on the record, absolutely love, but they weren’t ever considered for release.  More’s the pity.

I suppose the first question though should be this.  Is the single actually that important?  Many moons ago I think the choice of single was extremely important to an artist.  I mean, it was an indication of what fans could expect from the upcoming album, especially if they were released by drip feeding to us over a space of time.  It was the hook to get people excited about what was to come so it had to make an impact on the audience.  Nowadays though, we are in the age of streaming and iTunes etc and there is no longer that initial waiting period for fans to find out what the album will be like.  It’s an immediate response.  In most cases an artist will stick the entire album online before general release in whatever form they want and the consumer can choose to buy one track for say 99p or just a couple from the album that they like.  No need to purchase a CD and find out that actually you don’t like the majority of it, just buy the tracks you enjoy listening to.

Nme_blur_oasisBut what has this got to do with tracks that should have been singles?  I guess what I’m trying to establish is the importance of a single in the first place.  Does an artist need to hit with a top class tune and draw people in, or should they just make an album regardless and allow their audience to decide on how much of it they buy?  I am of the old school persuasion and still enjoy buying CDs on a regular basis.  I do, however, need a bit of a pre-empt of what to expect of the artist, so I am always interested in hearing a snippet of what their work sounds like before I wade in and buy the full album.  Perhaps I am in the minority on this though.

I did ask the question of a recording artist to find out how they go about choosing what tracks to release as singles when an album is completed.  I asked the lovely Olly Knights from Turin Brakes what their process usually is.  This is what he told me:

We argue amongst ourselves and then we let a radio plugger help settle it.  It helps when you have a clear front runner.  It’s not that easy with Turin Brakes though as we simply aren’t a single lead band.  But we’re really trying this time with the new album.  It’s been very eye opening doing lots of co-writes for others.  It’s ALL about the single!  Who knew?

I found this very interesting to hear, especially the part about not being a single lead band as I had never really considered this before.  Clearly there are artists out there who put together an album for the love of the art, but don’t ever necessarily think about how it will attract and stand out to the record buying public.

1952_nme_chartRadio play is also a big part of getting the single out there and heard by the public.  Years ago it was the top 40 on the radio every Sunday that let us know who had the number one that week and what people had been buying.  The charts now seem to be focused around the downloads that take place bearing in mind you can’t actually buy singles much anymore.  If the artist is lucky, perhaps some kind DJ will play a track they like on their show and get people talking about it.  This is exactly how I discovered Leon Bridges.  Zane Lowe played his song “Coming Home” on Radio 1 and I just happened to hear it.  It was only available on Soundcloud as Leon is a new up and coming artist.  I fell in love with it as soon as I heard it and went off to seek it out and have been telling people about Leon ever since.  Zane did his job very well indeed and decided to share something he thought other people would enjoy.  Job done.

So is it still important to craft a stand out song when you’re composing an album?  I would say yes.  You still need that little piece of magic that will intrigue the album buying folks out there, whether it be online or in an actual shop (gasp!) to prick up their ears and listen to your wares.  Without a track that can do that, you’re pretty much relying on your solid fanbase to just buy your album because they like you and not considering the whole new audience that you could be reaching by selecting the right song.

And this (finally) is what brings us to those songs that should’ve perhaps been released as singles.  I’m sure we all have an opinion on certain album tracks that we think would’ve fared better for our favourite artists.  I know I do.  I sometimes find it a real shame that an awesome track is hidden away on an album and unless you actually have that record it won’t be heard out there in the world.  With this in mind, we asked the nice folks on Twitter whether they could recommend their favourites to us.  We had lots of responses and decided to take heed of your suggestions and come up with a playlist featuring your tracks.  I really enjoyed listening to them, so a big thank you to the people listed below who got in touch.  This is your playlist.  Enjoy.

@starsfrighten / @HertfordSoul / @glynmorgan89 / @Adycolclough / @theGranerator / @MrKilliecrankie / @JohnyNocash / @Supernova_zine

The Bluetones Reunion – Interview With Adam Devlin

After writing recently about how much I’d love for one of my favourite bands to get back together again, the impossible happened.  Literally a few days after we published a piece on their final album A New Athens, the news came through that The Bluetones had reformed and would tour later this year to celebrate their 20th anniversary.  We couldn’t have timed it better.

But, who are The Bluetones?  For those of you who don’t know, here’s a bit of background info on the 4 piece from Hounslow, West London.  Formed in 1993, their first single “Are You Blue Or Are You Blind?” was released in 1995.  Their debut album Expecting To Fly followed in 1996 to massive success and famously knocked (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis off the number one album spot.  The band went on to release a further five studio albums and had 13 top 40 singles to boot.  However, it was time to say goodbye as the band split for good in 2011 by bidding us all a fond farewell with one final tour. Lead singer Mark Morriss has gone on to have solo success with his two albums Memory Muscle and A Flash Of Darkness while the other members of the band have joined him regularly on tour.

Eager to find out more about the reunion, I spoke to guitarist extraordinaire Adam Devlin who very kindly enlightened me on what the fans can expect on the upcoming tour and also what’s he’s been up to outside of the band since they parted company.


So, how does it feel to be back as The Bluetones?
No different at all at the moment.  I suppose it won’t feel like being back as The Bluetones until September when we actually play again, so you’ll have to ask me then.

Are you permanently back together or is this just a one off to celebrate your 20 year anniversary?
I don’t know to be honest, we’ll see what happens.  We certainly don’t have any immediate plans to record anything, this is just really about us hanging out together and playing a few gigs, that’s the thing we’ve missed the most. That and the free fridge magnets.

Has seeing other bands from around the same era reunite recently made it more apparent that it’s something you could do?
We’ve always been aware that it’s something we could do, but we’d only have done it if we’d really wanted to. I do have a new appreciation now of why so many bands do it though.  They think they can move on and do other things , but they miss it too much.  It’s the same reason so many footballers become managers, they just can’t let it go.

Have there been many offers to reform over the last few years?
Yes, we’ve been absolutely deluged with multi-million pound offers from all over the world on virtually a daily basis … I mean, no, not many, mainly weddings to be honest.

Do you think there was any unfinished business from when you split in 2011?
No.  No unfinished business.  There’s really no agenda other than we’ve got the perfect excuse to reform the band and feel like superstars again for a week. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

Has there been any negative reaction to you reforming or has it all been positive?
I haven’t come across any negative reaction.  I’m sure there probably is some, but we’re living in difficult and dangerous times right now so it’s hard to imagine anyone getting too worked up because The Bluetones have decided to reform. Maybe I’m being naive, maybe Kula Shaker are livid about it.

bluetones

What can the fans expect on the tour?
They can expect us playing some of our songs and some very reasonably priced tea towels. This is what our audience demands, this is what they shall get.

Are there are songs in particular you are looking forward to playing again?
I haven’t really thought that far ahead. We won’t really know what we’re playing until we go into rehearsals. I’m at the stage now I’ve just hoping I can remember how to play them.

Any new material maybe and can we expect a new album per chance?
At the moment that is not on the agenda, it may happen at some point in the future, I really don’t know. I sound like George Osborne now, I can’t rule it out but I can’t rule it in. I can neither confirm nor deny any speculation.

You’ve supported Mark at his solo shows, so do you think it will be very natural for you all to spend time together in a touring environment again?
Yes, incredibly natural.  I realise it doesn’t make for great rock “n” roll copy, but we actually all get on very well.  I’d even go as far as to say we quite like each other. Chemistry will not be an issue.

Personally, what other projects have you been involved in recently?
Lots of largely unpaid labours of love, but that’s the way I prefer it.  I mean the “love” bit not the “unpaid” bit. I won’t bore you with it all, but I will plug an album I made this year with some other washed up ex members of other bands.  The album is called Solution Songs by Thee Cee Cees and is a revolutionary socialist concept album designed to bring down the government. You can download it from all good record shops.

I love reading your blog as I’m sure many other people do. Will we be treated to some posts on how the tour is going perhaps?
Maybe, we did that before a few years back. Each of us would do a tour diary every few days and put it up on our website. It was usually complete nonsense though. I remember doing an entire blog on “all day breakfasts” at motorway service stations.

What does the future hold for the Bluetones?
I can neither confirm nor deny anything. Ever.

Finally, the burning question that everyone wants to know – will there be a tea towel available on the merch stand??!
Does The Pope shit in the woods?

So, there you have it. You can rest easy as tea towels will definitely be available when The Bluetones tour later this year.

Catch The Bluetones this autumn at one the following venues:

16 September – Leeds O2 Academy
17 September – Glasgow O2 ABC
18 September – Newcastle O2 Academy
19 September – Manchester Ritz
23 September – Portsmouth Pyramids
24 September – London The Forum
26 September – Birmingham O2 Academy
27 September – Bristol O2 Academy

We’re putting the band back together…

The Blues Brothers happens to be one of my all-time favourite films and I love the premise of Jake and Elwood putting the band back together again for one last show. They managed it in the end, with quite a bit of trouble along the way and the reunion was a great success. Well, they ended up in jail, but at least they were together again as a band!

It seems to be something of a regular occurrence nowadays that bands split up and then decide a few years later to give it another shot. Being somewhat of a cynic, I could say that financial reasons are probably the main driving force behind band reunions. Makes the most amount of sense I guess, but for the fans having their favourite artists back together again whatever the reason is probably good enough for them.

Crowded House - Woodface

I am a massive Crowded House fan. I have been since the release of Woodface in the early ’90s and I was heartbroken when they split for good in 1996. Drummer Paul Hester had left the band in 1994, but reunited with them for the farewell shows, marking the end of an era for this amazing band. It was a sad time, but as Neil and Tim Finn continued to perform both as solo artists and also under the Finn Brothers guise, it was a comfort to still be able to hear new music coming out. It was, however, truly devastating when Paul committed suicide in 2005 and the original Crowdies were no more. I remember hearing the news and shedding many tears for the loss, and in fact every time I write about Paul (even now) I have tears running down my face remembering what a talented individual he was. Crowded House went on to reform in 2006 and have produced some great music including the stunning Intriguer album in 2010. I guess the moral of the story is if you wish hard enough the band will get back together. Maybe.

In the UK we have been inundated with a TV show called “The Big Reunion” where various “artists” reformed for live telly. Bands like Atomic Kitten, Five and Liberty X took part and have toured on the back of the show. I didn’t watch it (it’s not really my cup of tea), but it seems to have provided some of these acts with a new lease of life so to speak. I guess this is a good thing for them, but I reckon their demise was more about them not being particularly good rather than anything else.

Ride - Going Blank Again

I suppose the reunion that caught my attention the most (apart from Christine McVie returning to Fleetwood Mac) was shoegazing band Ride getting back together again at the end of 2014. I was never a Ride fan I have to say, I was more into offshoot band Hurricane #1 if I’m honest, but they seemed to have a big influence on the scene back in the early ’90s. I know that when they announced a reunion tour tickets sold out pretty damn fast which shows the fanbase is still out there. Andy Bell seems to have reinvented himself in many other bands since the end of Ride by joining both Oasis and Liam Gallagher’s Beatles tribute act Beady Eye. Interestingly though, another band to reunite last year were Hurricane #1, but Mr Bell is strangely missing from the line-up. Clearly the chance to restart Ride was a better offer to him than the alternative. Enough said.

The Bluetones - Expecting to Fly

I suppose the question could be “which band would you like to get back together again?” For me personally it would be The Bluetones, but I don’t think there is much chance of that happening. Their debut album, the wonderful Expecting to Fly reaches the grand old age of 20 next year, but are we likely to see them getting together for some reunion shows? My instinct tells me no. Lead singer Mark Morriss is off doing the solo thing and I don’t think he has the desire to put the band back together again. I may be wrong though. In fact I hope I am cos that’s one tour I’d be extremely happy to see.

Why bands and bloggers need each other

See that Neil Hannon up there in the photo above this story? I’ve always liked him, but never more so than the day he was responsible, indirectly and directly, for the best day this site has ever seen. Allow me to explain…

In the year or so since I started running RRP properly I’ve had my fair share of “why am I doing this?” moments, pauses, blocks, and days of lesser inspiration. I’ve had to bear comments from music fans that effectively declare sites like this to be redundant. I don’t need to read reviews, they say, I can listen to anything at the click of a mouse. Besides, what do critics know about music?

What indeed?

What do I know about music? I’m not sure that I “know” anything. Not in the implied subjective sense, at least. I do know, though, that sometimes I hear a new song by an unsigned band and I think that it’s just marvellous that I have a place where I can stand and yell about its brilliance to passers-by; while most stick to their literal role in this weird little analogy, every now and then someone stops and gives this unknown melody a quick listen. And at that point, I’m happy because I connected these things.

But it can be a long, ill-rewarded road. Just as I’m not cut out for a career in sales, or any role where the most likely words I’ll hear are “no” and “sorry”, it’s rough sometimes when you know the only reason they didn’t hear you or see you waving frantically about an utterly fantastic new single is that they were already listening to something else: something with a bigger PR budget and air-time already in place, no doubt.

There are times, however, that make it all extremely worthwhile. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture – it could just be a tweet from the band to say thanks, an email from their label, a mention on Facebook or even seeing your words used in a future press release.

And it’s not just about a mutual pat on the back, it’s about the idea that we both get something out of it: someone asks if I’d be interested in writing about their band, I write something, they like it, they share it, and then maybe one of their fans discovers RRP, and starts reading a few other posts on the site that they would never otherwise have known about.

Better still, while it’s no coincidence that the two most popular posts on the site this week were both shared by the bands, individual members of the bands, their friends, the postman, their tennis partners etc… not all the clicks on those posts happened just because of the sharing. In other words, there’s a group of people who saw the posts (possibly because they were rising fast in the popular posts list) and were curious enough to take a look.

It’s the classic “win win win“.

Divine Comedy Day

While I was looking back through my visitor stats from last year, I found a pretty extreme example of this phenomenon. Here’s a snapshot of my daily page views according to Google Analytics:

page views 2014

You don’t need to know the exact numbers to see that something fairly interesting happened sometime between April and July. Taking the magnifying glass to the graph, it shows that the massive spike started on April 29th, peaking on April 30th, before tailing off partially again on May 1st. On April 30th alone, the site received over two thousand page views, comfortably the best day RRP has ever had. (Looking at awstats shows that just under one third of all visits in April occurred on the 29th and 30th alone).

Now, it just so happens that on April 29th 1996 an album called Casanova by The Divine Comedy was released. To celebrate its anniversary I held one of my “One Band One Day” events for the band: during the day I listened to nothing but The Divine Comedy, reviewed all their studio albums in chronological order, and tweeted about it as I went. At some point during proceedings, The Divine Comedy’s twitter account started retweeting me, and their Facebook page shared all my reviews.

The massive spike in page views all came about because they got involved. And it felt bloody great.

Not only did it feel great, but it also resulted in a whole load of extra page views all over the site. Of all the views over the three days, fully a quarter were pages away from all the Divine Comedy Day content. Given how small RRP was then (even smaller than it is today), it amounted to something like a 600% increase over what I would have normally seen. If I could repeat something like that today…

The moral of the story here is: if you’re a blogger, do try to get bands involved in your writing. Believe me – it can work wonders.

But do bands need bloggers, though? I must admit this case is harder to prove, and probably merits a post of its own. A proper one, with research and interviews, even…

Collectively, you could say that between them all the small to medium sized music sites out there contribute millions of occasions each year when a band and a potential new fan are connected. For my part, as well as posts on RRP I share a huge amount of content on twitter – sometimes my own posts, but often posts on other blogs, or tracks on Soundcloud, videos on Youtube, or entries on Hype Machine. Then there’s my Facebook page, which isn’t so active, but still reaches thousands of people each week. I’m also an active contributor to Facebook groups, one of which has just under six thousand members, all eager to discover the next big thing. I know I haven’t helped make any artists rich, but I do know people who’ve bought music off the back of reading about it on RRP, and even if their response amounts to nothing more than following a band on twitter or adding a few Youtube views to their tally, in the modern world of metrics these have some incremental value (not a great deal in isolation, perhaps, but when added to those from other writers…)

In a nutshell, then: Go us! Go bloggers! Go music writers!

And bands – if we write about you, please, please, please share and retweet the heck out of it!

How Could They Be Wrong – a Playlist of Mercury Losers

I don’t know if you can remember as far back as last night, but Young Fathers won the 2014 Barclaycard Mercury Music Prize in what many uninformed commentators have described as “an upset”. Meanwhile, the blogosphere’s most prescient minds were busy letting everyone know they predicted the win.

RRP unashamedly includes itself in this category, by the way…

Meanwhile, the rest – those pitiful wretches who didn’t randomly shout out YOUNG FATHERS WILL WIN!! quick enough – were left to root around their archives to dig out the earliest blog post in which they vaguely mentioned Young Fathers as proof they’ve been backing them longer than anyone else.

Yeah, check the timestamp.

Tweet of the night, though, was this humdinger:

Down the years the award panel has handed over-sized cheques to many worthy winners, something covered in this playlist’s companion piece Emergent Thrumming – a Playlist of Mercury Prize Winners; the shortlist system working as it does, though, many credible nominees have failed to land the prize. Or, to put it in media-speak, they have been snubbed.

Let the unsnubbing begin!

Saint Etienne“Nothing Can Stop Us”

I don’t think anyone felt particularly snubbed when the prize was first awarded back in 1992. I would think it takes a certain amount of hubris to be nominated for the inaugural award and then get stroppy if you don’t win it. A strong if weird first shortlist included Erasure, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Simply Red, U2, John Tavener & Steven Isserlis, Jah Wobble’s Invaders of the Heart and Saint Etienne – at the time still in rotating-vocalist mode until settling on Sarah Cracknell after the release of “Nothing Can Stop Us”.

Therapy?“Screamager”

I994 – and in only its third year, the prize delivered a surprising winner that led to a great deal of head scratching and bafflement that hasn’t since diminished. I have nothing against M People, and you can’t deny Heather Small could belt out a tune like no other (and will forever be remembered fondly by RRP for her contribution to the BBC’s version of Perfect Day), but it was a choice that seemed designed to attract ridicule. The 1994 shortlist included Parklife by Blur, His “n” Hers by Pulp, Music for the Jilted Generation by The Prodigy, Wild Wood by Paul Weller, as well as Michael Nyman, Shara Nelson, Ian McNabb and Take That: a typically diverse shortlist, and one that laid itself open to accusations of being arbitrary. To then give the award to the massively popular soul-dance album on the list just seems ill-considered.

Cornershop“Good Shit”

I don’t begrudge Gomez their 1998 win, really. But When I Was Born For The Seventh Time is surely the better album any which way you choose to slice them. Sorry about the SFW title alteration for the video, by the way: not my decision, obviously.

The Chemical Brothers“Under The Influence”

In a (sort of) word: Wip3out.

The Delgados“No Danger”

The millennium bug didn’t kill us all! And the Mercury judges celebrated by giving the 2000 award to a shambling, ambling and amiable beanie-hatted troubadour. And a worthy winner Badly Drawn Boy was, too, even if it did mean that The Delgados missed out. They had to make do with the Spirit of Scotland Award instead.

The Thrills“Big Sur”

2003 was not a vintage Mercury Year. Of the non-winners you could make a kitsch case for The Darkness (Permission to Land), and Lemon Jelly’s Lost Horizons was much loved at the time, but Vehicles and Animals isn’t even Athlete’s best album, and you could say the same for Radiohead and Hail To The Thief.

The Thrills reached #3 with So Much For The City, and scored another top ten album with Let’s Bottle Bohemia. After the disappointing Teenager in 2008 the band was dropped by EMI, since when they have been adrift in the temporal void known colloquially as “indefinite hiatus”.

Emergent Thrumming – a Playlist of Mercury Prize Winners

Psst! Wanna know a secret?

Young Fathers are about to win the 2014 Barclaycard Mercury Music Prize. You’re wondering, perhaps, how I know this. Truth is, I don’t. They’re among the outsiders, but it’s the classic no-money-down bet: if they win I look like a sage, and can nod my head in knowing victory; when they join the ranks of the losers, shaking the hand of the much more fancied winning act, I can, with a completely straight face, announce that “well, what I mean is, it would have been nice if they had won, wouldn’t it?”.

Wanna know another secret?

I’ve left one of the winners off the spotify playlist. I wanted it to be complete; I tried, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I wonder if you can guess who is missing.

Primal Scream“Don’t Fight it Feel it”

Might as well start at the top, with inaugural winners Primal Scream, who took the trophy and the big flappy cheque in 1992, thanks to the unexpectedly brilliant Screamadelica – an album so good even staunch guitar-loving indie and shoegazing types couldn’t get enough of it.

http://youtu.be/eFuE-thYZ1A

Suede“Sleeping Pills”

Hopefully you see where this is going now – occasionally I’ll have to resort to obvious tracks (or, in some cases, whichever one appealed slightly more than the others when listening to a winner’s album for the first time earlier today…), but I’m as likely to pluck out an album track worthy of re-loving.

Suede won with their self-titled debut in 1993, beating The Auteurs by a single vote. In my original attempt at Mercury coverage, in which I was trying to construct an alternative history of the award, this was going to be the foundation for a hilarious line about how, after The Auteurs had actually won that year, a conspiracy theory later emerged in which it was alleged that the vote was rigged in favour of Suede, only some suit cocked it up. Unable to shake off these rumours, Luke Haines would become increasingly unstable, before turning his paranoic bitterness into a humourless and violent album called After Murder Park.

Gomez – “78 Stone Wobble”

Be honest – when was the last time you listened to Gomez?

I said be honest.

Well you should go back and give them another listen, because there’s a lot more to enjoy there than you might imagine if you thought 1998 winner Bring It On was a bit of a one-off.

Badly Drawn Boy“Fall in a River”

After winning the award in 2000 with The Hour of the Bewilderbeast, Badly Drawn Boy – some say – went off the rails a bit. But then who among us truly knows how they’d handle the short, sharp shock of celebrity that leads to making a video with Joan Collins?

And who among us has written a song as simple yet as beautifully atmospheric as “Fall in a River”, and then stretched it out into a seven-minute dream?

Dizzee Rascal – Fix Up, Look Sharp

19 years old, and wins with his debut album Boy in da Corner in 1993. Basically including this here to make it seem like this is the Dizzee Rascal I know and love, when the truth is more like pulling embarrassing nightclub shapes to “Holiday”. Don’t judge me.

Antony and the Johnsons – My Lady Story

If this prize wants continued (or recaptured) relevance, it could do a lot worse than reward artists such as the 2005 winner Antony and the Johnsons: talented, remarkable, impressive, tender, affecting…

Elbow“The Fix”

Talking about killing two birds with one stone. “Richard Hawley’s been robbed!” declared Alex Turner when The Arctic Monkeys won in 2006 with Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. You have to admit he had a point. So here’s the former Pulp and Longpigs man, now appropriately established as a mellifluous and much-loved solo artist, joining 2008 winners Elbow.

PJ Harvey“The Last Living Rose”

The only two-time winner of the prize, winning with Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea in 2001, and Let England Shake ten years later. Two quite different albums, one unique talent.

James Blake“Retrograde”

Confession: I never did quite get round to digging into last year’s winning album, Overgrown. That said, I’m not a complete dolt; I did accidentally spend a fair amount of time captivated by Retrograde.

Young Fathers – LOW

This entry might be getting a hasty edit in an hour’s time, but what the hey, and let’s hear it for blind optimism.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you your 2014 winners, Young Fathers, following their Scottish Album of the Year award with more silverware.