Suffolk walks – photos from late December

My wife Kath and I spent a few days, up to and including the New Year, with our friends Jon and Maggie in Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast. It’s not the best known part of England – East Anglia generally has been neglected in many ways – but it is rather beautiful, in its understated way. We went walking on each of the three full days we had there, probably about 8-10 miles each day. Walking off a bit of the Christmas excess hopefully! In my last blog, “The Beauty of Small Things“, I published a few of the close-up photos I took. This time just some wider scenes, but with a homage to a favourite place included. Read on to find out…

29 January

We walked from Aldeburgh, through the Black Heath woods and past the Snape Warren, to Snape Maltings, which is famous for its cultural gatherings: music, drama, art.  Whether the surname of some of the baddies in “Harry Potter” was inspired by the place I have no idea. I particularly loved the scenes of the mudflats bordering the Alde river estuary, with all the straw-coloured reeds. I have a memory that they are bright green in the summer, from a visit a long time ago. Whatever: there’s a real serenity about the place, as you gaze over the reeds, swaying in the breeze.

We walked back along the same route in reverse, which gives you new perspectives of the same thing. And the sun began to set. The woods blocked the view to the west for much of the time, but I managed a few shots. The first isn’t so much sunset as just an interesting sky. It swirled above us.

30 January

Today, a circular walk, in which the Sizewell nuclear power station was never far away. The aliens have landed!

Minsmere nature reserve. Featured on a BBC Springwatch in the past, apparently.

The ruins in this one are the original site of Leiston Abbey.

Not sure how reassuring this public notice is!

Where the warm water from the power station flows into the sea, the fish gather. So, therefore, do the fishermen and the seagulls.

31 January

We began with a trip to Henham Park, not far from Southwold. The home of Latitude. Something of a spiritual home for me and Jon. It wasn’t open to the public, but there were no barriers and no-one around, so we ventured in for a bit, and bored our wives with lots of this is where the BBC tent tent is, this is where the new food village is, over there in the Woods is where the Sunrise Arena is, etc, etc. If you wish, compare and contrast with the festival, when there are 30,000 people there. My blog on Latitude 2018 has some scenery shots at the end. It was a dustbowl in July 2018; now it is recovered and green, ready for the next assault!

Southwold is the home of Adams beer and, intermittently, George Orwell. It’s a classic English seaside town too.

This is an old docks area on the estuary of the River Blyth. Black and white suits it, I think.

Back to Latitude. On the bridge, which each year is our re-entry into dreamland for four days.

 

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Beauty in small things

Back in the early 2000s, when I’d recently become a senior civil servant, I went on a two week leadership course. It was brilliant, and one of the highlights was a day on creativity (yes, in the civil service!) where some of us visited an advertising agency called St Luke’s, just off the Euston Road in London. At one point I asked one of the senior people how he got inspiration for new ideas. He talked about how you can focus on an object and really look at it, think about it, start to relate it to the wider world. And then ideas flow. Now, the cynic may dismiss this as gobbledegook, but I think there is something in it. And certainly, in the world of nature, when you look close up, you see amazing things. In that spirit, when I am out on walks and have my decent camera, which can zoom right in, I like to do just that.

For three days up to New Year’s Eve, I went walking along the Suffolk coast with my wife and some friends. We stayed in Aldeburgh. There was some enchanting scenery on the walks, which I will come back to in another blog; but for now, some of those close ups. With one at the end from a Thames walk in August last year.

Beauty and the Beast

Is that a butterfly?

Don’t call me ugly!

Twisted logic

Elegance

We stand together

Floaty

Who needs barbed wire?

The one from the Thames walk, in Oxfordshire. I love this one. A simple thistle revealing its secrets.

Did you know I was this beautiful?

 

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2018 – A Year in Music

Kacey Musgraves, Wembley Arena, October

2018 – what a year!. Politically it has been turbulent around the world, and in the UK our politicians appear either to have lost their minds or their nerve, as we head towards a break with the European Union which will yield no benefits whatsoever, just deep division and self-inflicted damage to our economy, our society, our nation and our influence in the world. Personally, it’s been a time of change, especially with my decision to retire, which I did in September. And boy, have I enjoyed being freed from the shackles of commuting, dealing with moaning MPs and spending hours in meetings that no-one wanted to be at! More positively, I’ve been doing lots of writing, reading, a bit of painting, plenty of cycling and walking, visiting galleries – and seeing friends. And, of course, enjoying a huge amount of music: on the radio – 6 Music, I salute you! – on Spotify and my iPod, and live. Oh yes, live! I think this is probably my record year for concert-going. In a spot of statto-nerdism, I went through my diary and blogs the other day and counted 44 concerts, plus three festivals: the one-dayer at All Points East in Hackney back in June, and then the two fixed points in the year  – Latitude in July and End of the Road in August/September. Those last two events added another 50-plus shows to the list! A lot of music, and a lot of wonderful experiences and precious memories.

It’s been a great year for recorded music, too. I say that every year, but there is so much creativity, so much variety, innovation, excitement. Plenty of tried-and-trusted experiences too – nothing wrong with taking comfort from the familiar, something to rely on, retreat to, in this mad world. I published my Top Ten of 2018 a couple of weeks ago, and mentioned another ten albums and a few tracks, just for good measure; but since then I’ve been listening to a lot of music that I’ve heard in 6 Music round-ups or read about in the best-of lists in the media. It’s mind-boggling! There is so much good stuff out there that I hadn’t heard – or even heard of. That’s despite spending a fair amount of my life listening to and seeking out new music. One of my favourite DJs on 6 Music is Lauren Laverne. She has been on between 10am and 1pm for many years, although she is about to take over the breakfast show. The timeslot has meant that I didn’t get to hear her that often, although you can listen to anything on delay these days, and she also does a very good “Recommends” hour one midnight each week. I’ve been listening a lot more since I retired, and just before Christmas I caught her round-up of her favourite tunes of the year. It was brilliant! A fair few tunes made their way immediately onto my Best of 2018 playlist on Spotify, including “Boys” by Lizzo, “Charcoal Baby” by Blood Orange, “Boyfriend” by Confidence Man and “Girlfriend” by Christine and the Queens. None of these are obscurities, but I was only just hearing them. “Tints” by Anderson.Paak (ft Kendrick Lamar) and “Offence” by Little Simz were already on the list, courtesy of earlier shows.  I’m getting my dance music bug back, after the dominance of indie and country in recent years. Back to the 90s!

But let’s not get carried away. Indie and country remained my staples, especially in the live environment, and on my endlessly listened-to playlists which accompanied a lot of my writing and even more of my tube journeys. My top albums were both by country artists – Kacey Musgraves and Catherine McGrath – although both were basically just very good pop albums. With, for me, some very moving and resonant songs. I was really pleased to see the recognition that Kacey has received for “Golden Hour”. And in the way of these things, a media bandwagon develops and suddenly the album is getting in everyone’s Best-of lists. So much so that in the recent BBC poll of 35 music polls, “Golden Hour” came top. Well-deserved; and I hope similar recognition will, in time, come Catherine’s way. Her debut album, “Talk of this Town” didn’t make any Best-ofs I’ve seen (though I’m sure it would have featured in some UK country lists) but she has made a great start to her career and is a joy live. I saw her three times this year, each show a sell-out and each a step up from the previous one. The last was at the Scala, Kings Cross, in September, part of her tour to promote “Talk of this Town”. It was a couple of days after my retirement, so I guess it will stay in my memory for that reason too!

Catherine McGrath at the Scala, September

Kacey’s show at Wembley Arena in October was one of the highlights of my musical year.  A really wonderful, moving experience. I’d put that show in my top three of the year. It’s hard to pick three from so many; but without taking time to analyse it, or go through the list and start to revise the choice, there were three that jumped out. The other two were Taylor Swift at Wembley Stadium, who really was amazing; and, of course Bruce Springsteen’s solo show on Broadway. I had the good fortune, thanks to my friend and colleague at IPSA, Matthew, to get a face value ticket for the show on 30 June. Face value was bloody expensive! But it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, an extraordinarily powerful mix of the spoken word and Bruce on acoustic guitar and piano. His wife, Patti Scialfa, joined him for two songs, but otherwise it was just Bruce and his story. While I was watching, I’m not sure I took it all in. It was afterwards, walking the streets of New York, that I started to process it, to remember key moments, to reflect on what it meant to me. I’ve written before on how Bruce’s music, from when I first heard “Darkness on the Edge of Town” at the age of 19, became a soundtrack to my life – a bit less so these days, but a lot so in my 20s and 30s especially.

Over the years I’ve invested a lot of time and emotion in the music of Bruce Springsteen. Sometimes it has been music to celebrate to – like when I finally passed my driving test, in 1997, got home and put “Meeting Across the River/Jungleland” on. There was no other choice. Sometimes it has been music to get angry to. Quite recently, in 2015, I got so incensed about something at work that I went for a walk along the river and listened to “Darkness on the Edge of Town” all the way through, metaphorically punching the air, kicking the cat, etc.  I felt better by the time I got back. Sometimes it has been music to feel miserable and self-pitying to – see entire late teens and early 20s! Sometimes it has been music to feel love to – like the time in 1996 when my baby son was lying ill on my lap and “The Ghost of Tom Joad”, a song about despair, had the opposite effect. I wrote two chapters on Bruce in my book “I Was There – A Musical Journey” if you want more of this!

A recording of “Bruce on Broadway” is now on Netflix. I’ve watched it once; in the New Year a few of my old friends are coming round for a Bruce and beer-fest. Back to 1978 all over again!

In the here and now, Latitude and End of the Road (EOTR) were, once again, highlights of the year. Crucial moments. Moments of liberation, discovery, celebration, community, conversation and Carlsberg! Lots. And this year sun, sun, sun, both festivals. Which at Latitude, means dust, dust, dust! As ever, the music was fantastic and provided a template for music-listening for much of the rest of the year. Highlights for me at Latitude included: Palace Winter, Lower Slaughter (so angry!), Durand Jones and the Indications, Black Midi, Alvvays, Mogwai, Holly Cook, the Orielles, Idles, Wolf Alice and Jon Hopkins. At EOTR my pick were: Tiny Ruins, Amyl and the Sniffers, This is the Kit, Fat White Family, Shame, the Orielles again, Caroline Spence, Soccer Mommy, Vampire Weekend, Japanese Breakfast and Snail Mail.

The Orielles, Sunrise Arena, Latitude, July

Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice, Obelisk stage, Latitude, July

Sophie Allison of Soccer Mommy, Tipi tent, End of the Road, September

A word on Idles and Shame. Both have won plaudits this year, both for their raucous live performances and their albums, “Joy as an Act of Resistance” and “Songs of Praise” respectively, which have ranked high in most Best-ofs that take punk/indie music seriously, including 6 Music, NME, Loud and Quiet and Rough Trade.  Even the Guardian, which now just follows the mainstream pop/dance choices on the whole, acknowledged them. I’ve enjoyed their live performances, but on record, the odd track at a time is enough for me. I find whole albums, especially Idles, a bit too relentless, and, to be honest, a bit tuneless. The riffs are a bit sludgy too. Best experienced on the stage, I think; and stand back a bit unless you like a lot of laddish moshing.

I thought I’d end with another list. Twenty-one of my favourite live moments of 2018, in no particular order.

  • The moment Kacey Musgraves appeared in a flood of light in the darkness at Wembley Arena, acoustic guitar in hand, and started singing “Slow Burn”. A truly moving moment that set the scene for two hours of bliss.
  • Taylor Swift suspended over the Wembley crowd in a gilded cage, singing “Delicate”. Bizarre and wonderful.
  • Bruce Springsteen’s brutal, raw slide guitar accompanying his searing rendition of “Born in the USA” in his “Bruce on Broadway” show. Reclaiming the song from the politicians.
  • Everyone in a packed Roundhouse singing along to Alvvays’ “Archie”. Uplifting.
  • Stina Tweeddale of Honeyblood drinking too much and losing it a bit at their show at Bush Hall in January – but still delivering a blistering set of punky rock’n’roll.
  • Stina again, singing solo at the Leith festival, Edinburgh, in May. A touch nervous, which just added to the intensity. And she played “Hey Stellar”! One of my favourite songs of all time.
  • Another joyous communal effort at the Roundhouse: Car Seat Headrest and the awesome “Killer Whale” chorus.
  • Gengahr on a tiny stage at All Points East rocking out to “Carrion”. A wall of sound, the best guitars around.
  • Everyone in the Scala singing along to “Thunder Road” with the “She Street Band”. The whole concert a total celebration of Brooooce!
  • Lande Hekt of Muncie Girls launching into “Jeremy”, a song about her father she wasn’t sure she’d have the nerve to sing. It’s not complimentary!
  • Watching Wolf Alice at the Q Awards aftershow at the Roundhouse, and feeling their time has really come. Truly magnificent.
  • Standing close to the front of the Tipi Tent at EOTR, wallowing in the beauty of Caroline Spence’s country ballads and being bowled over by “Slow Dancer”.
  • Skanking in the early hours at Latitude to the dubwise reggae rhythms and sweet melodies of Holly Cook and her band.
  • The Orielles at Latitude in the Sunrise Arena and at Heaven in November: glistening melodies, elastic beats and diamond-edged guitar. So much promise.
  • Catherine McGrath triumphant at the Scala in September, overwhelmed by the sight of so many people singing along to the words. Last song “Talk of this Town” a communal affirmation of how far she has come this year.
  • The electrifying cartoon punk of Amyl and the Sniffers at EOTR. The Ramones meet AC/DC. Huge fun, and really bringing back the memories.
  • Seeing Lindi Ortega twice in three days in June, close up at the Komedia in Brighton, then at the Garage, Islington. Wonderful songs, beautiful singing, superb musicianship, with “Lovers in Love” a new highlight.
  • The moments when Sophie Allison of Soccer Mommy goes solo, with just her electric guitar. “Waiting for Cars” at the Moth Club in March, “Still Clean” in the Tipi tent at EOTR, Bruce’s “I’m on Fire” wafting around the spaces of Wembley Arena. Works of delicate beauty.
  • The lary showmanship of Fat White Family and Shame at EOTR, undaunted by being on the main stage in the open air. Just more crowd to surf!
  • Vampire Weekend lighting up EOTR on the main stage, Saturday night. A revelation. Who doesn’t love “A-Punk”, “Oxford Comma” and all the rest? Sharp and funky.
  • The aural and visual assault of Jon Hopkins’ Sunday night show at Latitude in the BBC Music tent. Performing “Singularity”, his new album. Mind-blowing.

Taylor Swift, Wembley stadium, June

So, 2018 was pretty good! 2019 is already shaping up nicely, with a few gigs already booked, including Faye Webster, Adrianne Lenker (singer with Big Thief), Francis Dunnery (not again!), Black Midi (amazing and rather mysterious young noiseniks), Rival Sons (not heard any of their music, but I’m told they rock), Chrvches (hooray!), Sharon van Etten, Ward Thomas, Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, Steve Hillage (really!) and Kylie, who is playing Hampton Court Palace in the summer. That should be rather special.

Many more will be added to that list, including, quite soon I hope, the return of Honeyblood, promoting a new album. Can’t wait for that! No 1 album of 2019 slot already booked? We’ll see. Nothing is certain. I mean, we might even end up staying in the EU…

Fingers crossed and have a great 2019.

Stina Tweeddale, Leith Theatre, Hidden Doors festival, Edinburgh, May

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lovelondonscenes 155 – The Thames at low tide near Chiswick Mall

Last Sunday afternoon I went for a walk along the Thames from Hammersmith to Kew. Another cobweb-clearing exercise after a lively birthday dinner the night before with a few old friends in our favourite Chinese restaurant, Maxim’s, in Ealing.

It was low tide, and for once I strolled out onto the largely dried up riverbed to take a look around. The ebb and flow of the Thames is an amazing thing. Look at the shots below and then think that at high tide all this is covered and the water actually spills onto the street. I did a blog about Chiswick Mall at high tide a while back, if you’d like to contrast the two scenes.

It was a grey day and the dry Thames is pretty grey too. But there is a certain beauty in the bleakness.

There are a couple of photos approaching Kew Bridge from Strand-on-the-Green at the end. It was getting dark at just after 4pm. That time of year.

 

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My Top Ten Albums of 2018

2018. Another amazing year of music. I probably saw more concerts than ever before. And so many good bands coming through. The return of a few artists whose records I’ve loved in recent years too. I get asked how I find out about all this music (even though I really only scratch the surface of what’s out there). The answer is listening to BBC 6 Music, reading the music press, following bands on Facebook and Twitter, and the live experience. Concerts in London and occasionally elsewhere, and the two festivals, Latitude and End of the Road, which introduce me to great new bands every year.  There’s so much to love, and I’ve been loving it more than ever before in 2018!

And so here are my top ten albums of the year, plus a few others that came close, some great individual tracks and a few albums from 2017 that I missed last year. All represented on the Spotify playlist at the end of this review.

No 1. “Golden Hour” by Kacey Musgraves

Wembley Arena October 2018

Wembley Arena, 27 November. The lights go down. At the top of a staircase a shaft of light shines down on Kacey Musgraves, briefly alone with her acoustic guitar, strumming the opening chords of “Slow Burn”. Born in a hurry, always late, never been early since ‘88… I feel quite moved, the tears well in my eyes. “Slow Burn” is the opening song on my favourite album of the year, “Golden Hour”, and one of the best on the album. The best things can take time; I’m alright with a slow burn. “Golden Hour” has felt like the soundtrack to my life in 2018. It’s that rarity: a happy country album. Well, sort of happy – it has its moments of doubt and gloom too. The song that perhaps sums the whole thing up is “Happy and Sad”, where Kacey reflects on her feelings at times of real happiness – downhill from here! “Golden Hour” is a celebration of love and hope – Kacey married not so long ago – interspersed with those doubts and fears and some put downs of the arseholes in songs like “High Horse” and “Wonder Woman”. Along with “Slow Burn” and “Happy and Sad” my two favourites are “Oh What a World” and “Golden Hour”, both unashamedly sentimental and positive. Beautiful love songs; the perfect antidote to the crazy world in which we live.

The music on “Golden Hour” is, on the surface, barely country at all, though I dare say that the melodies, stripped down, could cruise along easily enough to a bit of weepy steel guitar. This is high class pop, beautifully produced, with half an eye on what a Taylor Swift has achieved, without going the whole hog into dance mode. “High Horse” is Kacey’s disco number, and it went down a storm at Wembley. But the template is more an updated Fleetwood Mac, without forgetting those country roots. Above all, “Golden Hour” is a feel good album that never fails to give you a warm glow. Easy and deep. A sound to wallow in, songs to swoon to. It’s winning a lot of big awards in America at the moment. People were surprised at first, but it’s no surprise to me. The USA has recognised the brilliance of Kacey Musgraves and this wonderful album.

No 2. “Talk of this Town” by Catherine McGrath

Scala, Kings Cross, September 2018

So continuing the country/pop theme, our own contender, and my No 2 of the year. Catherine McGrath is a young country singer from Northern Ireland and “Talk of this Town” is her debut album. Regular readers of this blog will know that I love her music and have been following her progress since I first saw her at Latitude in July 2017. I went to see her that summer afternoon because I’d read in the programme that she was inspired by Kacey Musgraves. So there’s a connection! “Talk of this Town” is a mix of some of her “old” songs re-recorded and a batch of fresh tunes, with a rockier edge in many cases, and definitely an ear for the pop sensibility of Taylor Swift. Lyrically, most of the songs are about lost love, missed opportunities, what-ifs, but the music is uplifting and at times, just plain beautiful. There are so many highlights, but I love the upbeat punchiness of newer tunes like “Enough of You” and “Lost in the Middle”, the defiance of “Talk of this Town” and the anguished should have been me cries of “Wild”, one of her oldest songs, now with full Tayloresque production. “Don’t Let Me Forget” is a lovely duet with Hunter Hayes, and the re-makes of the wistful ballads, “Cinderella” and “She’ll Never Love You” twang the heartstrings. Like Kacey’s “Golden Hour”, Talk of this Town” is always an album to put on and feel good.

No 3. “Fixed Ideals” by Muncie Girls

Borderline, Soho, October 2018

I came across Muncie Girls for the first time when I was asked to review “Fixed Ideals” for the Punk Archive website in August. I immediately liked the sound – mostly upbeat melodic punk combined with Lande Hekt’s distinctive, West Country tinged voice. So far so good, but on reading the PR blurb which came with a link to the album, a lot was made of the honesty and bite of Lande’s lyrics and how they dealt with her upbringing and battles with depression. So, on the train up to Edinburgh for the festival I had the album on repeat, and those lyrics did start to reveal themselves. There is an unvarnished candour, a real vulnerability, amid the anger at politics, at sexist men and at life, really. Lande doesn’t go for metaphor or allusion much, she tells it like it is in her world. And I found that the songs really grew on me, that the vulnerability and sadness in the words, were really quite affecting. So, on the one hand she excoriates her errant father on “Jeremy” as the riff struts and leaps into action; on the other the simple plea that we were friends at least; oh we were, weren’t we? in “Hangovers” is one of the most heart-rending things I’ve heard this year. Those two songs are the most memorable for me; but I love the Strokes-style guitar in “Fig Tree” along with the put down of one of those sexist blokes, and “Clinic” and Picture of Health” combine punky riffs with brutal honesty about what has gone on in her head. “Fixed Ideals” led me to Muncie Girls’ debut album “From Caplin to Belsize” which came out in 2016. They are fairly similar – “Fixed Ideals” perhaps a little slicker – and I’ve come to listen to them as a double album. The wonderful, wistful “Social Side” has become something of a companion piece to “Hangovers”. The band – a three piece – are excellent live too. Modern punk at its best.

No 4. “Silver Dollar Moment” by the Orielles

Heaven, Charing Cross, November 2018

The Orielles make music that is diamond-edged, jangling, funky and melodic, echoing the indie sounds of the 80s with a bit of 70s Isley Brothers style funk thrown into the mix. But with a sound which is very distinctly their own. “Silver Dollar Moment” is a joyous album which has grown on me over the year, and really took off after the brilliant live performance I saw at Heaven in November. I love Henry Carlyle Wade’s stop-start guitar motifs, complemented beautifully by Esme Dee hand-Halford’s elastic basslines and airy vocals. Highlights include “Let Your Dogtooth Grow”, “Sunflower Seeds”, “Old Stuff, New Glass”, and the slow one “Liminal”, accompanied by its 60s film theme shadow “The Sound of Liminal Spaces”, but the whole thing shimmers and delights.  This band are capable of anything in the future.

No 5. “Where Wildness Grows” by Gengahr

All Points East Festival, Hackney, June 2018

 Gengahr’s debut album “A Dream Outside” was No 1 in my top albums of 2015. I loved the twisted melodies, the eerie vocals of Felix Bushe and the expressive guitar sounds of John Victor. The best indie guitar album for a long time, I suggested. “Where Wildness Grows” is the next step on the journey. It’s lusher, more complex, but retains the essential qualities of the first album. The guitars sing, sometimes they surge, and the tunes remain entrancing. The best song of all is “Carrion” which carries you along on a wave of sound, and was magnificent live, when we caught them at “All Points East” this summer. I’ll be Waiting” chugs along catchily, a little like “Heroine” before it, and “Rising Tide” has a lovely, languid melancholy. “Where Wildness Grows” is another triumph, and I can’t understand why the music press haven’t picked up on them in a big way yet.

No 6. “Clean” by Soccer Mommy

End of the Road Festival, September 2018

Soccer Mommy is the vehicle for Sophie Allison, and “Clean” is officially her debut album, although she has had a couple of previous collections of songs. The sound is a combination of sensitive singer-songwriter and low-fi indie jangle. The songs pack a punch lyrically, but also have a real tenderness at times. Live they work beautifully, and never more so than when Sophie goes solo and just sings along to a sparse accompaniment from her electric guitar. I’ve seen the band three times this year; at a crowded Moth Club in Hackney, at End of the Road and then supporting Kacey Musgraves at Wembley Arena. “Your Dog” and “Cool” are the defiant rockers, the likes of “Still Clean” and “Scorpio Rising” the ones that work so well unaccompanied live. This album is a simple delight.

No 7. “Goat Girl” by Goat Girl

Koko, Camden, November 2018

Ah, I love this band! I just love their attitude. There is loads of it. No bullshit. Taking on the sleazy elements of London life. Live they have a real swagger, as they rattle through their songs, sometimes rocking out, sometimes drawling, twanging in a rockabilly style, or hinting at reggae. “Goat Girl” is their debut album. 19 songs, fragments, blurring into each other, confounding the expectations of what we were going to get first time around. As a piece it’s grower; individually the standouts are the ones that rock live: “The Man”, “Country Sleaze” (a new version), “Cracker Drool”, “The Man with No Heart and Brain”. It’s going to be fascinating to see what direction they take in the future.

No 8. “Liberty” by Lindi Ortega

Komedia, Brighton, June 2018

This is Lindi’s fifth album and quite different to its predecessors. The sound has a definite echo of the spaghetti western soundtrack. Rather than Nashville, this is Arizona, New Mexico. The themes are familiar – variations of country heartbreak, Lindi’s voice as achingly beautiful as ever. She toured the UK this summer and I saw her twice. Two of my musical highlights of the year. Overall, this isn’t her greatest album – the songs are less distinctive than some that have gone before. But there are many wonderful moments. My favourites are “In the Clear” – relief after the storm –  and the gorgeous “Lovers in Love”, which is up there with Lindi’s best. Still my favourite country artist (well, with Kacey, maybe!).

No 9. “Love is Dead” by Chvrches

Latitude Festival, July 2016

“Love is Dead” is Chvrches third album, and continues their journey from electro-indie to triumphant dance-pop. But still with an indie edge. It took me a little while to get the most from it, but the infectiousness of songs like “Get Out”, “My Enemy” (with the National’s Matt Berninger duetting) and “Heaven/Hell” won over me in the end. Actually, “Get Out” was a hit first listen. Definitely learning a few lessons from Taylor Swift there. Lauren Mayberry’s voice remains a thing of great beauty, set against the pounding dance beats; and live she is now an exceptional performer. Can’t wait to see them at Alexandra Palace next February!

No 10. “European Heartbreak” by Amber Arcades

The Dome, Tufnell Park, October 2018

Amber Arcades’ debut “Fading Lines” was my No 1 of 2016. I couldn’t get enough of those pristine Euro-melodies and the shimmering guitars. And then there was the electro-pop workout “Turning Light”, which was always the highlight live. “European Heartbreak” is a more subdued, melancholy affair, a lament for lost love, and for Europe. Only “Where Did You Go” really lets the guitars loose. The songs are lush, reflective, almost with a 60s feel. You could compare some of them with First Aid Kit. Singer Annelotte de Graaf, who also writes the songs and plays rhythm guitar, invests the songs with a wistful beauty. It’s another album that grows on you, that reveals more of its depths with each listen. Not as uplifting as the first, but ultimately a more profound listen. And in “Goodnight Europe”, we have a suitably regretful song for Brexit.

Near misses

“Nowadays” by Palace Winter takes up where the magnificent “Waiting for the World to Turn” left off, without quite as many memorable tunes. “Lush” by Snail Mail has been getting in a lot of year end best-ofs. It’s similar to Soccer Mommy” – a bit less varied in sound, maybe a bit rockier. Great live at End of the Road.

Snail Mail, End of the Road Festival, September 2018

I’m only just getting in to Courtney Barnett’s “Tell Me How You Really Feel”, but I’m liking the guitars and there are more of her unsettlingly honest lyrics amid some catchy melodies. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever on “Hope Down” have a rolling, rambling guitar sound that reminds me at times of REM and War on Drugs. Hollie Cook’s “Vessel of Love” is an easy-grooving collection of reggae with a lovely dub feel that really came across live at Latitude in the early hours. Hollie’s sweet vocals would have made this lovers’ rock in the 80s – maybe still do.

Hollie Cook, Latitude Festival, July 2018

“All Melody” by Nils Frahm, the German pianist/composer, is an adventure into sound – electronic and analogue. Quite beautiful – to immerse yourself in. And the foundation for an extraordinary live show. That can be said about Jon Hopkins’ “Singularity” too. More relentless electro-beats than Nils’s album, and quite amazing live at Latitude, enhanced by the stunning visual effects. “Dream Wife” by Dream Wife is a lively, assertive collection of indie rockers, embellished by the distinctive voice of Rakel Mjoll, who is brilliant on stage too. Adrienne Lenker’s “abysskiss” is a solo effort from the singer in Big Thief. It’s a thing of delicate beauty and I can’t wait to hear her perform it at Union Chapel in January. Finally, I haven’t really given “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino” by Arctic Monkeys enough time yet; but I sense there’s an album in there that could really grow on me. It sounds more like a solo venture for Alex Turner, and more than anything, reminds me of the balladeering of David Bowie. That’s not a bad reference point.

Dream Wife, Hidden Doors Festival, Leith, Edinburgh, May 2018

Some standout tracks from 2018 and some 2017 discoveries

Retirement has allowed me to listen to more daytime radio, and I’ve got to hear some great new soul sounds, some jazzy, some imbued with the spirit of rap and dance. The 90s rebirth of cool/ acid jazz vibe updated for the modern age. The tracks I’m really loving include “Blue Lights” by Jorja Smith, “Used To” by Greentea Peng, and “Tried” by BADBADNOTGOOD (ft Little Dragon).  I could add “Everybody Loves You” by Soak to that list, a real melancholy anthem. There’s a gorgeous new song from Faye Webster too, called “Kingston”. The word that comes to mind is luxuriant – both the sound and the accompanying video. Should be a massive, massive hit. Probably won’t, but the world doesn’t know what it’s missing. Sophie Allison of Soccer Mommy has also released a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” which is stripped down and wonderfully atmospheric.  And last but not least, two really beautiful songs from Billie Marten: “Mice” and “Blue Sea, Red Sea”. I first heard her a few weeks ago on Tom Ravenscroft, standing in for Lauren Laverne on 6 Music. Just loved her voice, and her laid back attitude when interviewed. Those two singles are follow ups to her 2016 album “Writing of Blues and Yellows”. It’s a good album, with a great mellow cover of Royal Blood’s metallic stomper “Out of the Black”. Shows there’s a lovely melody lurking in just about any song!

Faye Webster, The Slaughtered Lamb, Clerkenwell, July 2018

Four artists who had albums in 2017 that I missed, but I discovered thanks to End of the Road festival, also deserve a mention. Caroline Spence is a Nashville-based country singer with a beautiful voice and a wonderful album called “Spades and Roses”. I love it all, but the songs that stands out is “Slow Dancer”. Up there with Kacey’s “Slow Burn”. Big Thief are a New York band. Americana would be a lazy categorisation, but there’s an element of that. Chuck in a bit of Velvet Underground and U2 and you might start getting there. Adrianne Lenker, who I mentioned above, is the lead singer. “Capacity” was their 2017 album; “Masterpiece” came out in 2016. There are so many great songs, which can go off in all sorts of directions. “Shark Smile”, “Paul” and “Masterpiece” are my three current favourites. Julien Baker is another American artist. “Turn out the Lights” is her 2017 album and the title track starts slow and develops into a massive chorus. I really like her voice, though the music is a little overblown at times.  Finally, (Sandy) Alex G. Recommended to me by one of our Latitude gathering. I saw his band at End of the Road and was amazed by their popularity with the 20 somethings. Their 2017 album “Rocket” is a bit of a mish mash, but I absolutely love the song “Proud”. A totally joyous sound, even though some of the lyrics are quite dark.

(Sandy) Alex G, End of the Road Festival, September 2018

So that’s it as far as the words are concerned. But if you have Spotify and fancy a listen, here’s a playlist of the some of the music I’ve been writing about. Put on shuffle and enjoy!

One last photo of Kacey – just so it automatically pops up in my Facebook post!

Wembley Arena, October 2018

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lovelondonscenes 154 – By Osterley Park

I went for a cycle this afternoon – just a quick spin, which took me past Osterley Park, which is sandwiched between the A4 and M4 just west of Ealing. It’s a lovely park, a place we used to go to a lot when the children were young. There’s a bridle path which winds around the edge of the park, and as I cycled past the lake, around 2.30, I just had to stop and take a few shots pointing west, into the low sun. It looked gorgeous. Hopefully these photos give you some idea.

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Nils Frahm at Hammersmith Apollo, 4 December 2018

On Tuesday this week Jon G and I went to Hammersmith Apollo for a much anticipated concert: Nils Frahm. The German pianist, composer and all-round electronics whizz. I’d seen him before: Latitude in 2014, where he was amazing in the Sunday lunchtime slot at the Sunrise Arena (at that time the i-Arena) and then in 2015 at the Roundhouse. The album being showcased then was “Spaces”; in 2018 we have a new album, “All Melody”. It’s an intriguing and, as ever, entrancing piece of work. Mary Anne Hobbs on 6 Music, one of Nils’ greatest champions, has just made it her album of the year, and I can see why.

So there was a lot to look forward to, other than going to the Apollo, which is one of my least favourite venues, apart from the fact that it is easy to get home afterwards. We had seats in the balcony at least, so settled down for what turned out to be two and a quarter hours of engrossing musical adventure. There were ten songs stretched over that time. Each one a meticulous composition. Usually with periods of light and shade, looped refrains and punching beats one moment, mellifluous piano sections the next. Two banks of keyboards, with Nils moving from one to the other as the moment required. Electronic music can sometimes be rather impersonal – it’s made by a machine as much as the human operator after all, but the cadences of Nils’ music, the moments of soothing beauty, the soaring climaxes, can be quite moving. You are sucked in, at one with the music. It’s good on record, but it’s the live arena where Nils’ music has its power, its humanity.

It’s hard to pick out highlights, as I’m not so familiar with his music that I can instantly identify out many of the pieces. But “Says” from 2015, which came near the end, stood out; while “All Melody” (the track) was a thing of reflective beauty. Nils had a nice, self-deprecating patter, and talked about the simplicity of “Says”, with its repetitive shapes and journey through the chords from C to A to F minor (I think).  Simple yes, but hypnotic and greeted enthusiastically by the crowd.

So, yes, a truly captivating performance. The two and a quarter hours flashed by. A Nils Frahm concert is an immersive experience, a real joy. Catch him if you can.

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