The past is a different country

Many years ago, way back in the 1980s, I recorded a number of songs with a good friend of mine, Ed Robinson.  I have to confess that Ed was the real musical talent and I was, for most of the time, hanging on to his coat tails, as it were.

Under the name The Socks That Dempsey Wore, we recorded two collections of music: Out Of The Closet and Now That’s What I Call Dempsey.  I wrote and sang on a number of the songs and there was one that I was particularly proud of. It was written at a time when South Africa was still in the thralls of apartheid and Mandela was many years from being released, and with the news of the death of the great man, last week I thought it would be nice to put together a video to accompany the song, and it to share it with you all, as my personal tribute to ‘Madibi’.

WARNING: This song was recorded in the 1980s – and sounds like it was!

Stuck in the middle with you…

Bless me Father for I have sinned.  It has been nine months since my last ‘Spill post and since then I have done all manner of bad things.  But let’s not worry about that for now…

I have a car.  And in that car lives the world’s worst sound system. The radio works when it wants to which is infrequently at best and the sound quality is virtually non-existent.  The CD player was fine until about three months ago when it swallowed a CD which it now steadfastly refuses to spit out.  Driving back from Canterbury the other night, it suddenly started playing (which scared the bejeezus out of me, going at about 50 in the fast lane in the dark and the torrential rain) and much to my delight, the CD turned out to be Ben FoldsRockin’ The Suburbs.

And here’s the point of this post.  It still refuses to allow me to eject the CD but it’s now happy to play the CD which makes the car a one-CD car.  Thankfully, it’s a CD that I love but having now listened to it about twenty times in the past week or so, I’m just beginning to yearn for a change*.

What I’d like you to do is imagine that you are in the ToffeeMobile (or a similarly musically-handicapped vehicle) and that you have a CD stuck in the player. What would you like that CD to be?  Remember, you will never be able to change the CD – this is it for the rest of your life – you will never be able to listen to another CD in your car, ever!  So what’s it going to be?  Over to you…

* Please don’t suggest that I do something about fixing the CD problem.  I know…

A Richard Hawley Retrospective

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I was walking through the park the other day and I saw a Sheffield United season ticket nailed to a tree.  I took one look at it and thought to myself, ‘I’m having that.  You can never have too many nails…’

As well as being a musician and songwriter of the highest calibre, Richard Hawley is well-known for the dry, laconic wit with which he delivers his inter-song links during his live shows. He would have been in his element at the recent 2012 ‘Spill Awards ceremony and I like to think that he would have shared some of that laconic wit with us on Friday evening – possibly making a reference to his two unsuccessful Mercury Prize nominations and his one successful ‘Spill Album of the Year prize and the relative importance of each in his life…

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Hawley’s rise to fame came via a somewhat torturous route.  The release of Cole’s Corner in 2005 first brought him to the attention of the record-buying masses but this breakthrough came after more than twenty years in the music business.  From his formative years in Treebound Story (a band formed when he was still at school – pictured above) via the relative success of Britpop band Longpigs, and a short spell in Pulp (Hawley and Jarvis Cocker have known each other since the early 1980s), Hawley had always been on the fringes of whatever it is that constitutes ‘success’.  His decision, in 2001, to begin recording as a solo artist was a risk – described by Cocker in a 2002 interview in the Independent on Sunday as a ‘last throw of the dice’ – but it was a risk that paid off.  Seven solo albums down the road, Richard Hawley has become an established and hugely respected artist – perhaps not quite a household name but I guess it’s safe to assume that he makes a fairly decent living out of his music.  And surely no one can deny that he deserves that much at least.

He’s an unlikely pop star and it’s safe to say that nothing about his appearance or his musical background quite prepares you for his voice.  Essentially, he’s a 1950s/60s-style crooner who also happens to play a mean, twanging, country-tinged guitar and write some stunningly beautiful pop songs.  I love the guitar, I love the arrangements, I love the compositions but it’s the voice that does it for me – it’s clean and pure with just the occasional hint of a growl thrown in for good measure.  It gets into your soul and sits there, warming parts of your insides that you didn’t even know you had.  The music is as simple as it can be without being in any way anodyne, bland or insipid.  Many of his songs are four, three or even two-chord tricks and Hawley’s skill is in creating the variety, the light and shade, through his subtle use of strings and guitars (and that voice) to build layers of sound – the songs often reaching almost orgasmic crescendos (or maybe that’s just me!).

I had a great response to my original post with a nice range of Richard Hawley nominations from the ‘Spill collective.  Several tracks were chosen more than once and I’ve tried to include all of those while attempting, for the benefit of the uninitiated, to provide an interesting and representative cross-section of the Hawley oeuvre.  I was umming and ahhing about whether to include any material from the pre-solo career and I decided in the end not to.  It’s merely of historical interest and doesn’t really add anything to the listening experience.

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So my starting point was 2001’s eponymous debut mini-album from which I’ve chosen the track Sick Pay and I followed that up with Something Is… from Late Night Final, the first ‘proper’ album.  Both of these tracks show signs of what’s to come – nicely understated, simple arrangements with gorgeous, wistful melodies that you could listen to all night long.

Next up, from the 2003 album, Low Edges, I give you, Oh My Love – and for the benefit of DarceysDad, it’s the live version from 2008’s Festival Internacional de Benicàssim, the distorted guitars suggesting that Hawley’s love of the Phil Spector ‘Wall of Sound’ predates his most recent album by some considerable time.

Then we come to Cole’s Corner.  I’m desperate to avoid accusations of hyperbole here, but it’s hard not to come across as too gushing when it comes to this wonderful album.  It would be among the first records that I’d choose to take with me to my Desert Island.  It’s a rare example of an album without a weak track.  Alex Turner famously opened his 2006 Mercury Prize acceptance speech with the words ‘Someone call 999. Richard Hawley’s been robbed!’  It’s clearly not just Alex and I that feel so passionate about Cole’s Corner: no fewer than six tracks were nominated by various ‘Spillers and the title track alone was chosen by four different people.  It would therefore be wrong of me to leave it out.  So I haven’t.  I’ve also gone for barbryn’s choice of The Ocean which is a fine example of Hawley’s slow build technique in action.

Cole’s Corner was never going to be easy to follow but Richard Hawley made a pretty good fist of it with 2007’s Lady’s Bridge.  The bishbosh and DarceysDad nominated Valentine and CaroleBristol’s choice of Tonight, The Streets Are Ours are the two tracks I’ve chosen here, the latter neatly representing the more up-tempo side of Hawley’s work.

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It took a while for Truelove’s Gutter (2009) to grab me but I would now rate it as highly as Cole’s Corner.  It features Open Up Your Door which, quite rightly, made it onto the recent RR Songs About Doors list.  I was personally disappointed that makinavaja beat me to the nomination but this was more than made up for by John Dennis quoting my “one of the greatest songs of the 21st century” dond in his write up.

I’ve included the song here, as no Richard Hawley playlist would be complete without it and I’ve also gone for Remorse Code (nominated by glasshalfempty, sessionblogger (who he/she?) and DarceysDad (again. Good taste that man!).  Finally, from Lady’s Bridge we have the beautiful, Abba-esque For Your Lover Give Some Time, another choice from our Bristolian friend Carole and one of Hawley’s greatest lyrics.

Standing At The Sky’s Edge was somewhat of a departure for Richard Hawley featuring a much noisier sound with distorted guitars fulfilling the role previously occupied by orchestral strings to achieve the distinctive wall of sound.  The album evidently struck a chord with the ‘Spill Massive as it was the clear winner of the 2012 ‘Spill Album of the Year award.  I know you’re all going to go out and buy it (if you haven’t already done so) so I’ve just chosen one song here, Before, which probably best serves to illustrate the psychedelic noise fest that the latest album is.

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I’ve ended the playlist with three extras.  First up we have a lovely version of Hushabye Mountain, a duet with the lovely Lisa Hannigan, as nominated by the lovely shoegazer. Bishbosh wanted to include Hawley’s cover version of The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Some Candy Talking and who am I to deny his request?  And finally I’ve indulged myself by including a personal favourite of mine.  It’s a live cover version of The Arctic MonkeysThe Only Ones Who Know which features Alex Turner himself on lead vocals.

Finally, a big thank you to maki for putting the playlist together for me.  Hope you all enjoy it…

Richard Hawley – the overSpill…

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Richard Hawley first came to my attention when his 2005 album Coles Corner started getting rave reviews, culminating in its nomination for the 2006 Mercury Music Prize.  A friend recommended that I give it a listen and I was instantly hooked.  I’ve loved the three albums produced since then and I’ve gone back and introduced myself to the three earlier releases.

If you’ve been concentrating you’ll know that I’m a great admirer of the melodic pop tune as exemplified by such popular musical combos as Prefab Sprout, Belle & Sebastian, Death Cab For Cutie, The Go-Betweens and many more.  But what usually appeals to me is the way that the songwriters in question manage the trick of making what is actually a highly complex composition, sound musically simple.  Richard Hawley goes one step further: his compositions really are assimple as they seem to be.

So there must be something else that makes his songs so special and it’s that mysterious ‘Ingredient X’ that I want, with the help of the Spill Massive, to attempt to identify.  What is it that appeals to you?  What qualities make Richard Hawley, with no fewer than six lifetime Festive Spill nominations, our official number one artist of all time?

All-in-all, we have a fine body of work to consider: seven studio albums plus numerous live recordings and collaborations with acts such as Arctic Monkeys, Elbow and Lisa-Marie Presley!  And those us of a certain vintage might also want to delve into the output of Hawley’s Britpop also-rans, The Longpigs.

So, here’s the plan.  I’d like those of you who are already converts to Sheffield’s finest croon-rocker to nominate a track or two from the oeuvre to represent all that is great and wonderful about the man and his music.  I will then put together the ultimate Richard Hawley overSpill playlist and post it sometime after Christmas for the edification of the class.  How could that not be a Good Thing?

I’ll start the ball rolling by putting forward the following for your consideration…

Grace Under Pressure – an Elbow Retrospective

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The Little Band That Could; swirling, giddying, disorienting, romantic majesty; near made me cry; great; a teensy bit overrated; a national treasure; turning into Henry VIII; too many songs that rely on suspended fourths; big hooky hooks; Manchester’s Bury’s finest; better than black pudding! 

That’s what YOU said about Elbow!  And now that the Christmas fairy dust has had time to settle, the brussels sprouts are nearly finished up and the trifle is but a distant memory, it’s time to present the final Elbow spillOVER playlist for your edutainment.

I asked for your suggestions and I got more than enough.  As a bonus, there were plenty of instructive comments and some enlightening debate which kept me entertained for much of the day on Christmas Eve.

Trawling the long history of the ‘Spill (well, OK – I shoved the word ‘Elbow’ in the search box) I found sporadic references to Elbow starting as early as July 2008 with a blimpy/snadfrod item, which largely concerned the volume at which The Seldom Seen Kid should best be played, followed soon after by a gem of a shoegazer post requesting our nominations for best album by every artiste ever, which, as far as Elbow were concerned generated one vote for Cast Of Thousands and one for The Seldom Seen Kid.

Then, on 9 September 2008, DarceysDad posted his celebration of Elbow’s Mercury Prize victory – a post which is well worth a revisit:
http://thespillblog.co.uk/2008/09/09/e-is-for-elbow-and-for-eeebahgum-theyve-dunnit/

On 4 January 2009 came the announcement that Seldom Seen Kid had won the far more significant 2008 ‘Spill Album of the Year award and this was followed by snadfrod’s effusive review of Elbow’s 2009 gig at the Bridgwater Hall, Manchester accompanied by the Hallé Orchestra:
http://thespillblog.co.uk/2009/07/09/hallbow/

What I was really searching for (and didn’t find) was a post which I’m sure I haven’t imagined from an unknown ‘Spiller suggesting that Elbow might be the Band That All Spillers Like Or At Least No One In These Parts Actively Dislikes.  Whether Elbow represent this much sought after Eldorado (or should I say Elbow-dorado?) [No. Ed.] (‘Spilldorado?) [Still, no. Ed.] or not, it was perhaps significant that there wasn’t a serious buke to be heard – perhaps (in time-honoured ‘Spill fashion) Those About To Buke kept their collective heads below the parapet.  My hope is that they will now take the time to listen to this playlist and perhaps (like everyone’s favourite Deadhead) re-examine their Elbow-related feelings.  Of course, this list may have the opposite effect and convince Chris and others who hoped to be converted that Elbow are not for them after all.

A few notes on my selection. I decided to allow each ‘Spiller just one nomination.  I wanted to include one collaboration and one cover and after much deliberation I went for Murder of Birds with Jesca Hoop and Mercy Street (Peter Gabriel) to represent these two categories.  I loved the Elbow version of Independent Woman (which I hadn’t heard before – thanks shoey!) but didn’t feel that it was quite in keeping with the mood of the rest of the selection.  I also wanted to reflect one regularly-mentioned feature of Elbow – namely, their remarkable live performances: I have therefore included a couple of these in the list at the expense of the studio versions.

I think it’s fair to say that Elbow have long been on the ‘Spill radar and an overview such as this is arguably well over due.  I thank everyone for their contributions, hope that the final list meets their expectations (which of course are ‘great’) and, with a promise to spend more time on the ‘Spill in 2012, wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year.

(Thanks to maki for making the playlist work and to tfd for offering to do the same.)

Track listing:

From: Asleep In The Back
01. Powder Blue – fredflinstone
02. Newborn (live in Amsterdam) – garethim
03. Scattered Black And Whites – DarceysDad

From: Cast of Thousands
04. Fugitive Motel (live on Jools Holland) – exodus
05. Grace Under Pressure – barbryn

From: Leaders of the Free World
06. Station Approach – saneshane
07. Forget Myself – blimpy
08. The Everthere – shoegazer
09. Great Expectations – ToffeeBoy

10. Murder Of Birds (Jesca Hoop) – barbryn

From: The Seldom Seen Kid
11. An Audience With The Pope – tincanman
12. The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver (live at the Mercury Prize awards) – glasshalfempty

13. Mercy Street (Peter Gabriel) – alimunday
 
From: Build A Rocket Boys
14. The Birds – ShivSidecar
15. Lippy Kids – bishbosh

Elbow – the spillOVER!

This is almost certainly the wrong time to be doing this.  I’m sure most of us are otherwise engaged with pre-festive period activities such as shopping, cooking, visiting aged relatives or getting slaughtered at the office party and thus ensuring that the New Year’s resolution has a ‘never again’ theme to it.

But I’ve chosen to ignore all that as this is about the only free time I have all year and if I don’t do it now, I probably never will. 

Here’s the idea, as promulgated by saneshane, of this parish…

Everyone who wants to play puts forward a track by Elbow, by way of a YouTube clip or a Spotify link or whatever means you have for sharing such things with the ‘Spill class.  I then, as Spillmaster, select the best ten (or 15 or 20?) to put together the ultimate Elbow playlist for the edification of those who wish to learn the finer points of Manchester’s Bury’s finest!

There are five albums to choose from plus numerous singles with interesting B-sides and a handful of pre-major label EPs.  Any live recordings?  Obscure collaborations?  Let’s make this the Elbow compilation to die for!

I’ll start the ball rolling by throwing out my current favourite taken from their breakthrough album, The Seldom Seen Kid.