A Year of Listening Scottishly – February

So that’s one sixth of the year gone already and another month of listening Scottishly behind me.

For the benefit of those of you who have not been following every post on Facebook, waiting eagerly for each successive day’s slice of Scottish pop heaven, here’s February’s list:

1 Danny Wilson Davy
2 Aztec Camera Stray
3 Twin Atlantic Brothers And Sisters
4 King Creosote You’ve No Clue Do You?
5 Idlewild Love Steals Us From Loneliness
6 Del Amitri Heard Through A Wall
7 The Blue Nile Downtown Lights
8 Altered Images Love To Stay
9 Belle & Sebastian The Boys Are Back In Town (Live)
10 Trashcan Sinatras White Horses
11 Camera Obscura Modern Girl
12 Aztec Camera Jump
13 God Help The Girl Funny Little Frog
14 Orange Juice L.O.V.E. Love
15 Teenage Fanclub Here Comes Your Man
16 Close Lobsters I Kiss The Flower In Bloom
17 Ballboy Donald In The Bushes With A Bag Of Glue
18 Franz Ferdinand Darts Of Pleasure
19 Cocteau Twins Musette And Drums
20 Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan Come Undone
21 Eurythmics There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)
22 The Pastels Up For A Bit
23 Trashcan Sinatras Weightlifting
24 Peatbog Faeries The Naughty Step
25 Roddy Frame English Garden
26 Big Country In A Big Country
27 Mogwai This Messiah Needs Watching
28 Belle & Sebastian Fox In The Snow

I particularly enjoyed ‘covers’ week which presented me with an additional challenge and led me to the discovery of Teenage Fanclub’s excellent version of The PixiesHere Comes Your Man – further themed weeks are in the pipeline.

It’s certainly no struggle finding suitable material and while of course the list is inevitably going to be skewed in favour of my own 1980s, indie-pop leanings, I’ve been trying to mix it up a bit, dipping my toe into the murky waters of folk music for example, and I intend to continue to push the boundaries of my comfort zone as the year progresses. I’m grateful for any suggestions (I’m not taking requests as such – yet!) but please don’t ask for any Nazareth as a Glesga’ Kiss offends…

One thing that’s become very apparent is the dearth of suitable Scottish music dating from before the mid-to-late 1970s and it raises an interesting question. Why did the 1960s pop revolution (apparently) not take hold in Scotland? Both Glasgow and Edinburgh (and Aberdeen and Dundee for that matter) seem like perfect breeding grounds for the sort of guitar-based rhythm and blues/pop bands which sprung up in their hundreds south of the border, but I’m struggling to find anything worthy of inclusion. It’s almost as if the entire nation spent twenty years listening to what was going on elsewhere, taking it all in and quietly, secretively perfecting its pop sensibilities, before handing Edwyn Collins a guitar and a microphone and saying, ‘Go on. You know what to do…’

Of course I may be wrong and there may be some excellent 1960s/early 70s material waiting to be discovered. But that’s for another month.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of highlights from February’s posts…

A Year of Listening Scottishly – January

I’d like to claim that I’d been planning this for ages; that it wasn’t a spur of the moment thing, an idea that popped into my head on the morning of 2 January, when it occurred to me (not for the first time) how much wonderful music Scotland has produced over the years…

It was fortunate that the song I’d posted on New Year’s Day happened to be a song by a Scottish band (Camera Obscura’s New Year’s Resolution) but I suppose that, given Scotland’s long association with the celebrations that mark the turning of the year, perhaps it wasn’t too surprising. So, without giving it too much thought, I blithely announced that I was going to post a ‘great Scottish song by a great Scottish band’ on my Facebook feed, every day throughout 2015.

Foolish, I know, but as GlassHalfEmpty said at the time ‘amazingly doable’.

So here I am at the end of month 1 of 12 bringing you a summary (or ‘Spillary if you will [We won’t. Ed]) of the January highlights. First up, here are the runners and riders for the month:

1 Camera Obscura New Year’s Resolution
2 Trashcan Sinatras All The Dark Horses
3 The Proclaimers Sunshine On Leith
4 The Average White Band Pick Up The Pieces
5 King Creosote For One Night Only
6 Altered Images Happy Birthday
7 Aztec Camera We Could Send Letters
8 Hipsway The Honeythief
9 Belle & Sebastian Like Dylan In The Movies (Live)
10 Glasvegas Geraldine
11 The Blue Nile Tinseltown In The Rain
12 The Boy Hairdressers Golden Shower
13 Teenage Fanclub Sparky’s Dream
14 Cocteau Twins Heaven Or Las Vegas
15 Eddi Reader The Patience Of Angels
16 Trashcan Sinatras Maybe I Could Drive
17 Mull Historical Society Barcode Bypass
18 Malcolm Middleton Break My Heart
19 Orange Juice Untitled Melody
20 Belle & Sebastian The Party Line
21 Win Super Popoid Groove
22 Primal Scream Velocity Girl
23 Roddy Frame Small World
24 Edwyn Collins If You Could Love Me
25 Eddi Reader Ae Fond Kiss
26 Camera Obscura I Love My Jean
27 Teenage Fanclub What You Do To Me
28 30 Pounds of Bone Crack Shandy
29 Orange Juice Blue Boy
30 Deacon Blue Raintown
31 Lloyd Cole & The Commotions Lost Weekend

Scotland undoubtedly punches above its weight when it comes to quality pop music of the indie persuasion. The list of candidates for possible inclusion is long and varied (I currently have 76 acts in my virtual tartan note book) and I feel confident that I will be able to maintain a healthy standard throughout the year.

It’s proved to be a fascinating exercise so far and, without wanting to overthink it, I can already see that it’s going to lead me on some interesting voyages of discovery. I’ve already, for example, found a love for Eddi Reader that I wasn’t necessarily aware of and had the chance to rediscover music that I hadn’t listened to for years (such as Win’s Super Popoid Groove).

I’ve had an appeal (which I instantly committed to) for an absence of Nazareth and a call for more Teenage Fanclub, more Lloyd Cole and more Aztec Camera – these pleas have not fallen on deaf ears. Some artists will inevitably appear more often than others and, clearly, the list will reflect my personal tastes. But I will also try to be adventurous and explore music that I don’t know so well.

Here are a couple of January highlights:

I’m enjoying this. Keep the comments coming…

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…