Friday, 30 January 2015

Top 5 TV Shows I saw in 2014

I spent most of 2014 trying to get through the backlog of TV programmes on my TiVo. I was fighting a losing battle as the faster I watched stuff the more I recorded so the box rarely dropped below 50% full. We went to Cornwall for a week in August and by the time we got back the box was over 80% full and I don't think it ever recovered. The box died totally a few weeks later and I lost a lot of telly, saw loads of good stuff before it failed though so we're cool for a top 5.

1. The Bridge (Series 2) - My favourite show of 2012 was back for a second series and didn't disappoint. The fallout from the first story runs through the plot this time and brought a different feel to the show but the drama remained strong and the pace of the plot was perfectly pitched. The two lead actors, Sofia Helin & Kim Bodnia, are exceptional and the show really revolves around the magic of their on-screen chemistry.

2. Parks & Recreation (Series 3) - And my favourite show of 2013 comes a close second. Hot on the heels of Series 2 BBC carried on showing this fabulous comedy. Some extended story arcs including the complete shutdown of Pawnee government departments due to budget constraints and the on/off love affair between Andy and April worked really well but the strength of the show is in it's ensemble cast who all have their moments to shine.

3. Line of Duty (Series 2) - Finally something from the UK. I'd enjoyed the first series of this though it didn't quite make my top 5 from that year. This series had me gripped from the start though. Martin Compston & Vicky McClure reprised their roles from the first series and were both excellent though powerful performances from Mark Bonnar and Keeley Hawes really raised the game. There were twists and turns a plenty and you were never quite sure who was good and who was bad. There was also a nice cameo from Jessica Raine early on which made it clear this was a drama that wasn't going to play by the rules.

4. Stewart Lee Comedy Vehicle (Series 3) - The funniest series yet for Lee's Comedy Vehicle, this one had me laughing out loud more than anything else I saw this year. Particular respect for the UKIP episode in which Lee nails everything appalling about the rise of that party and shows them up for the sham of a party they really are. The Shilbottle episode was also superb, proving Lee doesn't always have top be political to get a good laugh.

5. The Walshes (Series 1) - Only three episodes but this was shown again on BBC2, after an initial run on BBC4, so I've seen them all at least twice. They crammed enough laughs into the episodes to knock most six episodes series into a crocked hat too, though it did take me a while to fully appreciate this. Created by comedy group Diet of Worms but with added writing flourish & directorial skills from Graham Linehan, I'm hoping they'll be back with a longer series next time out.


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

50 years of Tunes - 1966 - The Sonics "Boom"

Starting the 50 years of tunes list with a double whammy by the brilliant Sonics. Boom is the band's second album and features two more absolute belters in Cinderella & Shot Down. I saw The Sonics live in Brighton last year and they were absolutely blistering, not bad for a bunch of septuagenarians.
1966 - The Sonics "Boom"
Released: 1966
Label: Etiquette
Producer: Kent Morrill & Buck Ormsby

Side one:
"Cinderella" (Roslie) - 2:39
"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark"
(Roslie) - 2:16
"Skinny Minnie" (Bill Haley, Milt Gabler, Rusty Keefer, Catherine Cafra) - 2:11
"Let the Good Times Roll" (Leonard Lee) - 1:56
"Don't You Just Know It" (Huey "Piano" Smith, John Vincent) - 2:49
"Jenny Jenny" (Enotris Johnson, Little Richard) - 2:16
"He's Waitin'"
(Roslie) - 2:35

Side two:
"Louie, Louie" (Richard Berry) - 2:52
"Since I Fell for You" (Buddy Johnson) - 3:55
"Hitch Hike" (Marvin Gaye, William Stevenson, Clarence Paul) - 2:41
"It's All Right" (Chris Andrews) - 2:10
"Shot Down"
(Roslie) - 2:08
"The Hustler" - 2:03

Friday, 23 January 2015

Top 5 Books I Read in 2014

I had a dreadful year for reading books and only managed to complete nine. This was partly deliberate as I'd intended to spend more time watching films but if I'm honest that didn't happen either so the truth is I probably frittered away the time on Twitter. I still read some good stuff and the top five are highly recommended but I will try and read more often this year, that book pile isn't getting any smaller.

1. "Mudhoney: The Sound & The Fury From Seattle" Keith Cameron - Brilliant biography of the band that were the heart and soul of SubPop records and did as much as anyone to put Seattle firmly on the musical map. Keith Cameron always writes brilliantly about music and his involvement with them both then and now mades him the perfect candidate to document a true underdog band. A fabulous read that reinvigorated my interest in the band and had me rapidly filling in the gaps in their back catalogue.

2. "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater " Kurt Vonnegut - I'm a big Vonnegut fan but still have a long way to go to get through his canon of work. I picked this up as the kindle version was quite cheap but it's one of my favourite Vonnegut books so far. Quite short but a thoroughly absorbing read with a feelgood message.

3. "The Lowland" Jhumpa Lahiri - This was from the 2013 Booker Short List and was another very enjoyable read. Tells the story of two brothers who were born and grew up together in India but make choices that mean their futures are very different. It's a quality bit of writing that makes the most of a fairly subtle story line.

4. "Roy Hodgson - A Football Life" Richard Allen - The first (and so far only) biography of England's current manager written by Fulham author & blogger Richard Allen. I suspect it's an indication of the media's lack of enthusiasm for Hodgson as a person that means there hasn't been a flurry of books about him yet. Richard spotted this gap in the market and with a wealth of information about Roy from his time with Fulham was well placed to put this excellent book together. Initially only available on Kindle (and the catalyst for me starting to read ebooks on a regular basis) there was also a short print run and you can still get physical copies via A valuable read for anyone who wants to know more about what makes Hodgson tick and how he found his way from Maidstone to Malmo, Switzerland to Inter Milan and Fulham to England.

5. "The Great Cassette Experiment - The Joy of Cassettes!" Neil Pace - The third eBook on the list and the perfect read for my travels by public transport. A meandering journey through 130 albums on cassette. For six months the only music Neil listened to in his car was the albums he owned on the most unloved medium of music storage. A smashing collection of witty essays dissecting a real cross section of music from the Eighties & early Nineties. Neil is a particular fan of electronic music, which isn't my bag at all, but his style of writing ensured there was something of interest in every chapter, he even had me listening to albums I'd have never considered trying before.


Wednesday, 21 January 2015

50 years of Tunes - 1965 - The Sonics "Here Are The Sonics"

Another Twitter originated list-a-thon thanks to the organising and enthusiasm of @StaggerLee30. This time the aim was to pick our favourite album for each year from 1965 to 2014. Fifty albums that stand as the best of their year of release.

I've already tweeted them, so if you're impatient you can find the full list over there. Otherwise I plan to do one a week on a Wednesday to fill the gap between top fives.

The first two years were claimed by a band that blazed a trail for punk rock a good 10 years before that was an actual thing ...

1965 - The Sonics "Here Are The Sonics"

I got into the band thanks to the comprehensive Psycho-Sonic compilation. That features every track from their debut album Here Are The Sonics which has become one of my absolute all time favourite records. Psycho, Strychnine & The Witch are great original tunes while Have Love Will Travel and Dirty Robber are covers that outstrip the originals.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Top 5 Gigs of 2014

Another year in which I intended to cut back on gigs but failed to resist the lure of exciting new bands (and a few exciting old ones). Technically I did go to less but only by 3 so not really the reduction I was aiming for. I managed a total of 23, just one short of two a month, which is too many though were on the whole all fabulous nights and a large reason why I failed to keep this blog ticking over.

1. Status Quo at Hammersmith Odeon (Friday 28th March) - Roughly a year on from the first time I saw the classic "Frantic Four" line up here was one last chance to catch them live. So, Quo grab the prize two years in a row. That may seem a bit repetitive (ironically) but this was genuinely the best gig of the year for me. They played pretty much the same set (bar a couple of songs) as the previous year but I was significantly less drunk and enjoyed it all the more. Tonight had the added bonus of the Wilko Johnson Band as support and Wilko was in fine form, a real privilege to see him strut his stuff and, following the news about his successful operation, hopefully not the last.

read full report at Choppers Gigs

2. The Sonics at Brighton Concorde 2 (Monday 5th May) - I had unfinished business with The Sonics. The last time I saw them live (which was also the first time the reformed line-up had played in the UK) was back in 2008. I was near the back and didn't really connect with the show the way I'd hoped for. Tonight I made sure I was right down the front and the band did not disappoint. In fact they were on blistering form, which was pretty impressive for a band made up largely of septuagenarian's. I also got to meet Gary from BBC's Big Allotment Challenge.

read full report at Choppers Gigs

3. Goat at The Roundhouse (Friday 3rd October) - A band who remain tantalisingly anonymous, wearing a variety of masks on stage and, so far, eluding my attempts to Google their names. The two female vocalists never stop to chat to the audience but kept the crowd captivated with their harmonious vocals and non-stop dancing. Goat have a brilliantly feelgood vibe that put a smile on everyone's face and got everyone dancing.

read full report at Choppers Gigs

4. Mogwai at the Royal Festival Hall (Friday 24th January) - Very few things match the buzz of getting a ticket for a sold out show on the day of the gig. With new album Rave Tapes dominating my playlist I made a late decision to try and get tickets. Magically the RFH came to my rescue by releasing a few extra restricted view tickets in the week of the show. This worked out brilliantly for me as I ended up in a fantastic spot and saw a spectacular gig from one of my favourite bands.

read full report at Choppers Gigs

5. Dead Rat Orchestra at The London Canal Museum (Monday 28th July) - During July & August 2014 the Dead Rat Orchestra undertook a unique tour across the canals and waterways that run from London to Bristol. This was the opening night of a 273 mile odyssey that really captured my imagination. They planned to gather stories and write songs as the journey progressed, incorporating these into their live set as the journey progressed. This first night was wonderful and ended with the band playing as their small cruiser sailed off into the dark ...

... then they came back, still playing the same tune. Having formally launched the tour there was time for one last encore downstairs, which I watched from behind a coat rack. I had hoped to catch them again further down river but in the end only managed one other performance, a free gig at Staines Memorial Gardens a few days later.

read full report at Choppers Gigs


Friday, 9 January 2015

Top 5 Songs of 2014

I had intended to get my end of year lists done and dusted in December (like every other publication) but time got the better of me once again and, in hindsight, I think I prefer it this way. Loads of songs I thoroughly enjoyed this year, there's a link at the bottom to a much longer playlist, but these five just about edged it. I should make a special mention for Sharon Van Etten who could easily have claimed all five spots for herself but does rather well in my Album of the Year list instead.

1. Stanley Brinks & The Wave Pictures "Orange Juice" - The Wave Pictures have been ridiculously busy this year and managed to release three or four songs I absolutely loved. This collaboration with Stanley Brinks, former singer & guitarist in Herman Düne, came out back in January and has stayed in my head ever since. A corker of a chorus that I can't help but sing along to.

2. Tiny Ruins "Me At The Museum, You In The Winter Gardens" - I first heard this on the Marc Riley show back in early 2013 but it was only officially released this year. It's a truly beautiful song that I wish more people had heard and comes from the equally wonderful album, Brightly Painted One.

3. The Burning Hell "Amateur Rappers" - I'm not usually attracted to a song because of the lyrics but this song manages to find the right balance between being funny and clever and still be a great tune you'll want to listen to again.

4. Micah P. Hinson "The Quill" - Another heart-breaking and beautiful tune with a sublime keyboard introduction that I think Micah plays on a Harmonium he found in his Gran's garage.

5. Metronomy "Love Letters" - Metronomy's 2014 album has been largely over-looked in the end of year lists but I think it's at least as good as The English Riviera. This is the lead single and stand out track for me.

And before you go here's a link to my Twitter based musical advent calendar, 24 songs I enjoyed in 2014 plus John Otway's attempt to claim the Christmas Number 1 slot - Chop's Musical Advent

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Top 5 Christmas number ones

It's been far too long since I last wrote a proper top 5 on here. I've traditionally published a Christmas special but was running out of topics until this popped into my head late one night. The Christmas number one single has been a sought after accolade for some time although, as I've discovered in researching* this, hasn't often been the bearer of great music. There are just about enough decent songs - in-between the recent dross of X-Factor winners, "novelty" releases by the likes of Mr Blobby and the umpteenth re-release of "Do They Know It's F-cking Christmas" - to cobble together a reasonable top five. Though, as you'll see, my definition of "reasonable" might be open to debate.

*Reading Wikipedia

1. Slade "Merry Xmas Everybody" (1973) - It turns out there aren't many Christmas number ones that actually reference Christmas, certainly not many I'd consider putting in one of my top fives. This Slade track may seem a bit old hat now but, as Christmas number ones go, it's as good as it gets and scores extra points for being a decent tune AND being about the actual event.

2. The Human League "Don't You Want Me" (1981) - As I'm sure I've mentioned before, although I grew up in the eighties I wasn't a fan of the chart music of the day. This song was unavoidable at the time and, if I'm honest, I probably hated it but recently I seem to have developed something of a nostalgic feeling for the best songs of the era and it turns out this is an absolute corker.

3. Pink Floyd "Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)" (1979) - Was this really a Christmas number one? According to Wikipedia it was so who am I to argue? This was, oddly, partially responsible for me getting into Punk. It seems strange that so soon after the punk revolution a band so synonymous with the old guard were still claiming chart success, though, if truth be told, lyrically the Floyd were as reactionary as any of the punk vanguard.

4. Rolf Harris Two Little Boys (1969) - Can I get away with this still? I realise that as a man he clearly got away with some heinous acts and is now rightly being punished for them. Can I separate the man's art from his personal life? To be honest I don't know but this single was a landmark moment in my youth. I had this and Jake The Peg on 7" and they were possibly the very first pieces of vinyl I owned. I remember thinking this song was a bit lame when I was six but it ingrained itself into my consciousness over the years hence and, prior to the court case, had become something of a nostalgic gem.

Whatever the rights & wrongs of art vs person I feel a little uncomfortable posting a video of the song so here's my standby replacement "Killing In The Name" by the popular beat combo Rage Against The Machine who claimed the number one slot in 2008.

5. Girls Aloud "Sound of the Underground" (2002) - And having slated X-Factor and the like at the start of this piece let's go full circle and give a tip of the hat to the modern day hit factory that does occasionally find a gem amongst the conveyor belt of pig swill.

Happy Christmas to you all, thanks for sticking with me and very best wishes for the New Year.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Chop's Gig Reports - November/December

The year has ended rapidly and I've failed miserably to get any more top fives completed but I couldn't let the year go without linking to the last two gigs of the year. If all goes to plan I'll try and put up a Christmas themed top five on Christmas Day and then do my end of year lists fashionably late in January to kick off 2015 in style.

Barrence Whitfield & The Savages at The Jazz Cafe on Saturday 22nd November 2014 - My first live experience with Barrence Whitfield and The Savages was a thrilling night of Soul infused, hard Rocking, pre-decimal Rhythm & Blues. A band I guarantee you'd have a good time watching and one that will be high on my list of bands to catch live whenever I can.

dEUS at The Scala on Wednesday 10th December 2014 - dEUS have been around since 1994 and were the first Belgian Indie band to sign to a major international label. I first discovered them through their third album, and major label debut, The Ideal Crash. It was an impulse buy, partly motivated by a very short review I read but mainly due to the cover. Despite the proverb I’m generally of the opinion that judging books by their covers is a fairly successful way of finding good stuff to read. I’m less likely to follow that approach with music but every now and again I’m drawn to an album entirely thanks to the artwork. The Ideal Crash is the ultimate example of this, I’m not sure why (maybe I just really like Orange) but it didn’t really matter what that review said, I knew I wanted this album. In the days before Spotify that meant stumping up hard earned cash too, no opportunity to try before you buy.

[** Warning: This is more a schematic of the venue than a gig review.]


Friday, 14 November 2014

Chop's Gig Reports - End of October/Early November

Yikes! Things have been a bit hectic and I've not had any time to even think about top fives, let alone write one. One of the reasons for that was an increase in the number of gigs I went to, so here are the next batch of gig reports just to tide you over for a few more weeks.

British Sea Power "Sea of Brass" at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-sea on Friday 24th October 2014 - My first British Sea Power since I began writing this blog. This was the first night of the “Sea of Brass” tour, combining the BSP live experience with a 28-piece championship Brass Band. The brainchild of conductor Peter Wraight who arranged bespoke brass parts to accompany a selection of Sea Power songs from throughout their back catalogue.

Hookworms at The Dome, Tufnell Park on Tuesday 28th October 2014 - After starting the month seeing Goat at the Roundhouse I continued the Psych theme with a stunning show from Leeds based Hookworms. Like Goat, this was a gig my pal Chris had wanted to see, and like Goat I found the band suddenly clicked for me in the weeks just before the gig. The single On Leaving particularly caught my attention and I found a new love of the debut album too, which combined to raise my excitement levels prior to the show.

The Godfathers at The Lexington on Friday 31st October 2014 - The first London gig for the new Godfather's line up following something of a bust up that briefly derailed the band earlier in the year. Chris & Peter Coyne have been at this for too long to let the loss of another lead guitarist (and a drummer) hold them back and the new five piece line-up sees them return to a two guitar approach.

Steve Hackett "Genesis Revisted" at G-Live, Guilford on Monday 3rd November 2014
- Part of an extended run of dates for Steve Hackett's Genesis Revisited shows with a few set changes to keep it interesting for those that saw him last year. You know you're at a Prog Rock gig when there are more balding heads than people with hair and the venue runs out of Hog's Back Brewery T.E.A. before the main act arrives on stage.


Friday, 24 October 2014

Chop's Gig Reports - July to October 2014

My cunning plan of using the Top 50 Debut Albums list as a way to keep the blog ticking over and build up a stash of top fives inevitably failed miserably so I'm back to using my usual space filler of catching up with the gig posts from my other blog.

The Dead Rat Orchestra at The London Canal Museum, Monday 28th July 2014 - During July & August 2014 the Dead Rat Orchestra undertook a tour by boat along the canals and waterways from London to Bristol. This was the opening night in the heart of town at the London Canal Museum.

The Dead Rat Orchestra at Staines-upon-Thames Memorial Gardens, Thursday 31st July 2014 - Day Four & Gig Two of the Dead Rat Orchestra's river & canals tour. I don't live very far from Staines so couldn't resist the short trip to see the DRO play a free lunch time set.

The Bad Shepherds at The Great British Beer Festival, Olympia Grand Hall, Thursday 14th August 2014 - A trip to The Great British Beer Festival coincided with an appearance by Ade Edmondson's Punk Folk covers band The Bad Shepherds. Inevitably after arriving around one o'clock, and despite my best intentions to "take it easy", by the time the Shepherds came on I was a little bit drunk. In fact, if I'm honest, I was SO drunk I can't remember a great deal about the show at all.

Goat at The Roundhouse, Friday 3rd October 2014 - A trip to The Roundhouse for an evening of Psych headlined by Sweden's magnificent Goat. A band who remain tantalisingly anonymous, wearing a variety of masks on stage and creating a feelgood vibe that put a smile on everyone's face.

The Necks at Café Oto, Tuesday 7th October 2014 - The second of a three night residency by Australian experimental jazz trio that gave me my first taste of live improvisational music. This was also my first trip to Café Oto, which is almost certainly the most hip venue I've ever been too with a fairly decent selection of Belgian beers. This review probably not massively aided by my intake of the 6% Brugse Zot.