Friday, 25 December 2009

Top 5 Christmas Albums

A very merry Christmas to you all.

Having already done Songs and Films I was rapidly running out of ideas for Crimbo top fives but this one seemed like a topic I could have a fair crack at. Most of these are available to listen for free via Spotify (if you're not signed up and need an invite let me know). Full list on Amazon here

1. Various "A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector" (1963)
Classic compilation of Christmas songs recorded by Spector's roster of Artists. Darlene Love, The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and of course the wonderful Ronettes.

2. Low "Christmas EP" (1999)
So, officially, this is an E.P. but these eight tracks are a genuine contrast to the standard Christmas fare. Low's characteristic restrained and sparse style provide the perfect theme for the end of a long Christmas day. When everyone has gone home and you're left putting away the crockery and finding places to store all the new toys.

3. Jethro Tull "The Jethro Tull Christmas Album" (2003)
A compilation of Tull's best known Christmas songs (re-recorded), bulked out with some new songs and traditional covers.

4. Vince Guaraldi Trio "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965)
The soundtrack to the television special of the same name. I'm not a big Jazz fan but this is music that takes me back to my childhood and a point when Christmas was the most exciting time of the year.

5. The Ventures "The Ventures' Christmas Album" (1965)
Sixties surf instrumentalists take on the Christmas song in their own inimitable style. Versions of their own hits segue (almost) seamlessly into Crimbo classics.

That'll be it until later in the New Year when I'll be back with my favourites of 2009. Have a great holiday and best wishes for 2010.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Top 5 Songs of the 2000s

This was hard. I narrowed it down from a long list of 20 tracks (partial Spotify playlist here if my link works). XFM and Absolute Radio have both recently completed a similar exercise. "Mr Brightside" by The Killers won the XFM vote. Absolute Radio are still counting down their list. I don't think any of my songs even made their respective top 100. Still, it probably goes to prove how much great music has been released in the 2000s (particularly 2006 it turns out). Though my choices are better, obviously. I've also added a YouTube clip of each song for you're listening pleasure.

1. "Hold Me In The River" Brakes (2006) from The Beatific Visions
The moment Brakes grew up from a quirky side project into a fully fledged rock'n'roll band.

2. "Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)" Arcade Fire (2004) from Funeral
Difficult to pick one song from Funeral that I like any more than the others but this is a cracker and a live favourite too.

3. "Breathless" Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (2004) from The Lyre Of Orpheus
Stunning and beautiful song from the Bad Seeds 2004 double album. Not the sort of thing you'd expect from Mr Cave.

4. "Eight Days of Hell" And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead (2006) from So Divided
I find it impossible to listen to this song without singing along and beaming from ear to ear (not the easiest of things to do at the same time). Despite the title and the subject matter this is one of the most upbeat songs you're likely to hear.

Video on YouTube

5. "Ballad of the Broken Seas" Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan (2006) from Ballad of the Broken Seas
Gravel voiced Lanegan provides the perfect counterfoil for Ms Campbell's delicate ballad.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Top 5 Albums of the 2000s

Continuing my run down of the best of the noughts these are my favourite albums of the decade.

1. "Funeral" Arcade Fire (2005) - Difficult to find words to do this justice. This is art rock without the pretension. A brilliant big sound full of joy, energy and excitement.

2. "White Blood Cells" The White Stripes (2001) - I'd read a fair bit about the White Stripes before picking up this, their third album, but I couldn't imagine a guitar and drums duo could actually make anything sound this amazing. "White Blood Cells" is full of stripped down raw energy but underlying it all there's some great songmanship. The White Stripes turned out to be much more than their hype suggested and led me on a trail into Garage Rock and beyond. I love most of their first four albums (not so keen on the later output) but this remains my favourite.

3. "The Greatest" Cat Power (2006) - It took me a long time to get round to listening to Cat Power and this was the first album I heard. It's got a wonderful lush Memphis soul sound that accentuates Chan Marshall's gorgeous yet fragile voice. This is an album I can put on at any time of the day and feel happier about life when it's finished.

4. "Relationship of Command" At The Drive-In (2000) - ATDI arrived in an explosion of noise and hair, blew everyone away with their post-hardcore sonic attack, then promptly split up on the verge of making it massive. It was probably for the best as it would have been hard to top this album and various subsequent projects have veered a little too closely to Spinal Tap's "Jazz Odyssey" for my liking.

5. "Ys" Joanna Newsome (2006) - I'd previously avoided the apparently squeaky voiced performances of Ms Newsome but the critical clamour for this album intrigued me enough to give it a go and I was converted. On first listen it's easy to dismiss this as whimsical or contrived but there's a depth of feeling and intensity that shines through.


Friday, 4 December 2009

Top 5 Films of the 2000s

Doing lists of the best things of the decade seems to be in vogue right now and seeing as it doesn't involve a lot of thought I figured I'd follow suit.

1. Sin City (2005 dir. Robert Rodriguez/Frank Miller/Quentin Tarantino)
Based on Frank Miller's neo-noir series of graphic novels this is a visual feast. I hadn't read the comics before seeing the film so had no pre-conceived ideas about what it should look like but as far as I can tell it's pretty much spot on. Love the ensemble cast and the Tarantino style story segments. Thrilling stuff.
iMDB entry

2. City of God (2002 dir. Fernando Meirelles/Katia Lund)
Brazilian drama about organised crime in Rio de Janeiro. Very few genuine actors used, most of the cast came from the Rio favelas which makes for a gritty and authentic feel that really aids the story telling. Close run thing between Sin City and this for the number one slot.
iMDB entry

3. Walk The Line (2006 dir. James Mangold)
Johnny Cash biopic which focuses on the love affair between Cash (brilliantly portrayed by Joaquin Pheonix) and June Carter (an equally great performance from Reese Witherspoon).
iMDB entry

4. Black Hawk Down (2001 dir. Ridley Scott)
Film about the Battle of Mogadishu and the US effort to capture a Somali warlord. Ridley Scott is one of my all time favourite directors and managed to create a conflict based movie that compares well with the very best war movies.
iMDB entry

5. The Man Who Wasn't There (2001 dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)
Another noir film in which Billy Bob Thornton plays a laconic, chain-smoking barber who blackmails his wife's boss in an attempt to raise money to invest in a dry cleaning company. Filmed in colour but transferred to black and white it has the feel of a 1940s classic which is enhanced by a wonderfully understated performance from Thornton.
iMDB entry

Friday, 27 November 2009

Top 5 Live Albums

Modern bands don't seem to release live albums anymore. Actually that's not quite true. I guess they do they just don't make them a milestone in their back catalogue. Official live bootlegs are now the way of the world. Marillion (in 1992) and Fish (in 1993) were the first of the bands to do this (I reckon they predate the Grateful Dead's "Dick's Picks" series by 6 months) releasing live recordings independently of their record label and selling direct to the fans. During Pearl Jam's Binaural tour of 2000 the band made every show available live. Seventy two live recordings from one tour. Back in my "METAL years" (1985-1989 approx) all my favourite bands released an official live album at some point, that might explain the heavy rock leanings of my selections below.

Status Quo "Live"
Recorded at the Glasgow Apollo Theatre between 27th and 29th October 1976 this is the holy grail of live albums. Quo were all about the live show and this double album set seemed to capture them at their peak. The nearest you could get to a Quo gig in your bedroom. I used to pogo along so much I'd make the needle on my turntable jump.

Johnny Cash "At Folsom Prison"
The first of his prison albums Folsom bristles with energy. John forges a personal connection with the audience at the time and the listener later. It's like he's talking directly to you. No wonder the prison guards sound nervous that the whole thing's going to boil over into a riot. The follow up "At San Quentin" is almost as good but it's Folsom than sets the standard.

Iron Maiden "Live After Death"
Released following the massive World Slavery tour of 1984-85 (just shy of 200 dates in 13 months) this was Maiden's first full length live album and marked a high point in their history. It was also the first new release since I had discovered them after picking up a copy of Powerslave because I liked the cover. I cannot remember being more excited about any record release before or since. I cycled into Kingston to get my copy (from the sadly missed Record Shop) on the morning it came out and then cycled straight home to listen to it. Scream for me Long Beach!

Ramones "It's Alive"
An album I've only obtained quite recently it's everything you would expect from the Ramones live. Twenty eight tracks in about fifty three minutes. Back to back Ramones classics played at breakneck speed with barely a pause to say hello (or complain about a spicy chicken vindaloo).

Townes Van Zandt "Live at The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas"
I've done this top five once before on a Fulham forum now lost to the mists of time. Can't remember what the 4th and 5th placed albums were back then but I had quite a few suggestions for live albums that were better than my chosen few. This recording of Townes Van Zandt was the one that left a lasting impression on me. It captures Van Zandt in an intimate venue with only his voice and guitar for support. A brilliant snapshot of an enigmatic performer that lets his personality and song craft shine through.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Top 5 Jones'

Oddly inspired to do this after watching Norah Jones on Later with Jools Holland. I've actually done this top five before as part of the PRS focus group but that one was focused solely on music.

1. Booker T. Jones - Multi instrumentalist and song writer best known for his work with the MGs and Stax Records.

2. Halo Jones - Lead character from Alan Moore's 2000AD story "The Ballad of Halo Jones" and comic book hottie.

3. Brian Jones - Guitarist and founding member of the Rolling Stones who died less than a month after being told he was out of the band.

4. Indiana Jones - Dr Henry Walton Jones Jr to give him his official title.

5. Lance-Corporal Jack Jones - Permission to speak Sir? The comedy genius that is Clive Dunn's portrayal of Jonesy on Dad's Army. They don't like it up 'em.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Top 5 Peanuts characters

I'm reading the Andrew Collins book "Where Did It All Go Right". It's based on diaries he kept as a boy growing up in Northampton in the seventies. Quite amusing in parts and filled with great nostalgic detail about a time when I was a similar age. He briefly mentions a list of his favourite Peanuts characters (the cartoon by Charles M. Schulz for those who don't know). It brought back some memories for me and had the inevitable result ...

1. Linus

2. Schroeder

3. Woodstock

4. Snoopy

5. Lucy van Pelt

I think there's a little of Linus in all of us. No place for Charlie Brown but without him none of these characters would have any meaning.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Top 5 Bands I've seen play live most frequently (and other stats)

Or, in other words, an excuse for me to reel off some stats that I've found out since I discovered the wonders of Song Kick.

This is my gigography a record of every gig I've been to. Currently that's 382 according to my SongKick profile although that doesn't include "pub gigs" which brings my official tally to 402. That might sound like a lot but it is over 23 years and if I have discovered anything from using SongKick it's that I'm small fry compared with some people!

Of course, I knew how many gigs I'd seen already but Song Kick provides a smart front end that lets users add set lists, reviews, photos or video as well as a facility to track venues or artists you want to see live. All brilliant fun for a list nerd like me and the latest reason I've found to be sitting on the computer when I really should be doing something more useful with my time.

So, who are the bands I've seen live the most? I don't think there will be any surprises here for anyone who knows me well. My music tastes have changed over the years but this nails me down to the 4 or 5 years when I was enjoying the twin benefits of living at home and working, which just happened to coincide with "The Prog Years".

1. Marillion (32 times)

2. Status Quo (30 times)

3. Fish (21 times)

4. Jethro Tull (20 times)

5. IQ (8 times)

An added bonus, as it's been a while since I did a top five, these are the venues I've visited the most.

1. Town & Country Club/London Forum (51 times)

2. Hammersmith Odeon/Apollo (47 times)

3. Wembley Arena (32 times)

4. Brixton Academy (22 times)

5. London Astoria (19 times)


Friday, 25 September 2009

Top 5 Things about Shepperton

We've lived in Shepperton for almost seven years now and are very much at home. It has the same suburban village feel I grew up with in Thames Ditton. It's the sort of place trendy alternative comics would have ripped to pieces in the 80's but I've come to realise it's the sort of place I like to be. I couldn't hack living in the City, however exciting and vibrant it might be, and I don't think I'd cope that well in the Country either. Suburbia is like Baby Bear's porridge. It's not too salty nor too sweet. It's just right.

1. Shepperton Studios - Originally opened in the early thirties, Shepperton Studios remains an active and important part of British cinema. The list of films made there is both extensive and impressive; The Third Man (1949), The Omen (1976), Alien (1979), Ghandi (1982) and Shakespeare In Love (1999) to name a few. Despite the scale of production involved the studios are actually tucked away and only a modest sign and the occasional dayglo direction signs give any indication of what's going on.

2. Home to author J.G. Ballard - The late James Graham Ballard lived with his family in Shepperton since the late fifties. I was quite excited when I first found out the author of "Empire of the Sun" and "Crash" was a fellow resident but disappointingly never saw him around town. I wondered what effect Shepperton had on Ballard's literature and found this article which has some rather bleak looking photos. It also includes some quotes and passages from JGB about the town including a fantastic description of Shepperton residents as "exotic marine creatures with the dream-filled minds of aquatic mammals".

Other famous residents include the actor Frank Finlay, Peter Moran who played Pogo Patterson in Grange Hill and Ray Dorset of Mungo Jerry fame.

3. It's destruction in "The War of The Worlds" - That's the H.G. Wells novel of course not some forthcoming event I have precognition of (Sorry, been watching too much "Peep Show" lately, I'm starting to sound like David Mitchell). There's a whole chapter titled "What I Saw of the Destruction of Weybridge and Shepperton" which describes the destruction of the town by Martian invaders. We live in a Victorian semi which was built around 1881, some 17 years before the book was published. It added an extra reality to the novel and to my mind we're damn lucky our house is still in one piece.

4. The Damned play Live - Yep, they did and there's an album to prove it. Appropriately titled "Live at Shepperton 1980" it captures a fan club gig from 29th July and was originally released as the fourth side of the double vinyl "Black Album". This got me quite excited as I couldn't imagine what venue they played at. The Village Hall? The Kings Head? The roof of the post office sorting depot? Turns out they played at Shepperton Studios, which is a little disappointing based on my early impression of being able to pop down the local and see a chart topping punk band for a fiver. Shepperton's not renowned for its live music scene the only band I've seen play was my pal Gibbo's first group (Never Before Midnight) who played their final show at the Village Hall in the early 90's. However, I've just discovered that rock legends Uriah Heap also played live at the studios as recorded by the equally appropriately named "Uriah Heep - Live at Shepperton". Shepperton, Rock City!

5. Shepperton Village Fair Raft Race - OK, I'll admit I'm struggling a bit now but the raft race really does have to been seen to be believed. The Village Fair has been a fixture in the calendar for over 35 years. The raft race is always a highlight and this year some 42 "vessels" took part. It's not so much a race as a procession but there's something wonderfully British about watching the never ending stream of home made craft wobble their way round the bend in the river all in the name of charity. Maybe these are the "exotic marine creatures" of Ballard's mind.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Top 5 Footballs

As a kid my favourite ball to kick about in the back garden was a light bouncy plastic one. The sort you can get from Tesco for a quid now. I had a George Best Soccer Special which had his signature on and looked a bit like an Adidas Telstar. I liked it because even the gentlest of taps would cause it to fly down the garden at top speed. I was able to recreate Alan Sunderland's Cup winning goal for Arsenal, sliding in to fire home between the two trees that provided my goalposts. My other ball was an old fashioned leather one. It was heavy and under inflated but it was good to use on windy days or during periods when my George Best Soccer Special was nestling in a neighbours bush and I wasn't allowed to climb the fence to get it back.

1. Adidas Tango

This is the classic Adidas design that graced World Cups, in various forms, from 1978 until 2002. It's a brilliantly simple yet eye catching design. When Adidas decided they'd try something different in 2002 it really didn't work. The Fevernova might have had some fancy colours but it just looked wrong.

2. Adidas Telstar

For anyone who grew up watching football through the sixties and seventies THIS is what a ball was supposed to look like. Simple and straightforward with a great name. Also the first Adidas World Cup ball used at both 1970 and 1974 competitions.

3. Slazenger "Special Edition"

This is the 1966 World Cup ball but represents the classic "old style" ball that have survived from the early 1900's. Made from heavy leather with thick laces tying the whole thing together it was a solid lump which makes the skill and technique achieved by players from that era all the more impressive. Even so it was a massive improvement on the 7 or 8 panel balls they used in the 1800's. That really must have been like kicking a lump of concrete.

4. Mitre Ultimax

Mitre designs haven't changed a great deal over the years. In the eighties their Delta 1000 was the ball of choice for Football League games. The Ultimax is the current Mitre ball and I like the colour scheme more than any of their "classic" styles.

5. Adidas Champions League

Yeah, I am running out of choices. I don't really like any of the fancy Nike, Puma or Pony designs so it's back to Adidas. The Star effect has been used for many of the recent Champions League finals and as a contemporary design I think it works pretty well.


Saturday, 5 September 2009

Top 5 Indian Curry dishes

The school summer holidays are all but over and I've completely failed to build up a stock pile of top fives to kick start me on the weekly routine again. Think it could be a while before I've found enough time to get something decent written but I'm fed up with seeing the Wombles at the top of the page so here's a quicky on my favourite currys.

1. Chicken Dhansak - My new favourite curry. Chicken and lentils in a rich spicy sauce that gives a medium heat and slightly sweet taste.

2. Chicken Jalfrezi - Former number one which is about as hot as I can take. You can at least leave a few chillis if you're struggling.

3. Chicken Korai - Sizzling sauted chicken with onions. Good choice if you don't fancy a sauce.

4. Lamb Rogan Josh - It's not often I don't pick Chicken but this is a classic curry that is great for a bit of a change.

5. Chicken Tikka Masala - The first proper curry dish I ever tried.


Thursday, 6 August 2009

Top 5 Wombles

Flicking through the channels the other day we stumbled across an episode of the Wombles. A great opportunity to show the boys what "proper kids television" is all about we thought. But no! This was a nineties remake and hugely disappointing in comparison to my memories of the seventies original. Based on the stories of Elisabeth Beresford the BBC show (which ran from 1973-1975) was directed by children's television legend Ivor Wood. Wood was a stop motion animator who also created The Magic Roundabout (with Serge Danot), The Herbs, Paddington and Postman Pat. The Wombles were all voiced by Bernard Cribbins and had a theme tune so catchy I can still remember every word. They went on to release their own album (a record that might have been the first that I owned) and even appeared on Top of The Pops with the Womble costumes filled by a host of rock legends.

1. Tobermory

2. Orinoco

3. Wellington

4. Great Uncle Bulgaria

5. Madame Cholet


Friday, 31 July 2009

Top 5 Blake's 7 crew members

Created by Terry Nation (the man who invented the Daleks), Blake's 7 was the BBC's answer to Star Wars. It was the talk of the playground in 1978 and quickly became the must see programme for boys under twelve. When Blue Peter showed us how to make a Liberator transporter bracelet its similarity to those seen on screen hinted at the budget the show was working with. Despite this the programme grew in popularity thanks mainly to an eclectic cast of characters, not least Servalan the Federation Supreme Commander who provided the lead villain. Servalan was played superbly by Jacqueline Pearce who provided a mixture of fear and sexual tension whilst creating a persona that seemed like a hybrid of Margaret Thatcher and Darth Vader. The crew themselves were a rogues gallery of criminals and freedom fighters who appeared doomed to failure but always found a way to survive.

1. Vila Restal (Michael Keating) - Natural thief and lock cracker with a high sense of self preservation bordering on cowardice.

2. Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow) - Cold hearted pragmatist who retained a dry sense of humour and provided some of the show's wittiest moments when vocally sparring with Vila.

3. Roj Blake (Gareth Thomas) - Idealistic leader of the resistance movement who managed to break free of Federation brain washing to lead the team of rebels with a cause.

4. Cally (Jan Chappell) - Telepathic humanoid alien who began the series as a hardened rebel freedom fighter but became a bit of a mystical hippy.

5. Olag Gan (David Jackson) - Gentle giant who provided the hint of muscle but had a Federation limiter implanted in his brain to prevent him from killing.

The other two members of the original seven were former smuggler Jenna Stannis (Sally Knyvette) and the Liberator's partly telepathic computer Zen (voiced by Peter Tuddenham). Read more about the series at Betty's Guide to Blake's 7

Friday, 24 July 2009

Top 5 Men on the Moon

Last Monday (20th July) marked the 40th anniversary of the first men to walk on the moon. I was 1 at the time so don't have any genuine memories of the event but growing up in the "space age" had a major influence on my life. Not least in kick starting an early phase of my minor compulsive disorder for collecting stuff. I spent ages trying to complete the PG Tips "Race Into Space" card set and that led on to further obsessions with "Prehistoric Animals" and "The History Of Aviation". Space is still cool and forty years on only 12 men have ever set foot on the moon.

1. Neil Armstrong Apollo 11 (and first man on the moon)

2. Alan Shepard Apollo 14 (and the oldest man to walk the moon - Shepard was also the second man in space, 23 days after Yuri Gagarin)

3. Buzz Aldrin Apollo 11 (second man on the moon who, when called "a coward, a liar, and a thief", punched Bart Sibrel [the moon landing hoax proponent] in the face - Buzz was 72 at the time)

4. John Young Apollo 16 (and Apollo 10 which orbited the moon but was not scheduled to land - So near and yet so far)

5. Charlie Duke Apollo 16 (and Capcom for Apollo 11)