Friday 29 January 2010

Top 5 Gigs of 2009

My lowest gig tally for some time, I think I only managed 8 or 9 all told. The quality remained high though so there were no shortage of contenders for the final five. All gigs were in that there London unless stated.

1. Dananananaykroyd (Hoxton Bar & Grill) - So, if I was being strictly accurate the 'Naykroyd would be at numbers 1 and 2. I saw them twice and they were head and shoulders above any band I've seen in the past ten years. Possibly ever. The Hoxton show edged out the Scala show by a gnat's whisker. It was the first headline show I'd seen them do and a cracking night for many other reasons. If you like your music at the spiky end of the scale do yourself a favour and see this band live.

2. Bill Callahan (Union Chapel) - First time I'd seen Bill live and first time I'd been to the Chapel. Bill was on brilliant form, playing songs mainly from his 2009 album (2nd in my albums of 2009) as well as a nice mixture of old favourites. The Union Chapel is a proper working church, which means it's first come first served for the best spot on the pews. I'm at an age where I can enjoy a venue that provides cups of tea in a proper mug and has little tubs of ice cream on sale.

3. Neko Case (Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth) - Likewise, this was my first live experience of Neko Case. Alternative country if you don't already know. Neko has a stunning voice which was all the more impressive in the cosy environment of the Wedgewood. It seemed a little like this was a warm up for the following nights show at the Barbican but the relaxed atmosphere only aided my enjoyment. A cracking mix of new songs from "Middle Cyclone" and the best of her back catalogue.

4. Pixies (Brixton Academy) - Playing the whole of "Doolittle" in order plus a selection of b-sides from the same era and some old classics. Fantastic show which I slightly regret being too drunk to fully appreciate. Thankfully they're selling live CD's of the tour so I still have the chance to listen to the show more attentively. Despite my state of sobriety I had a fab time and thoroughly enjoyed the night.

5. Stiff Little Fingers (The Forum) - I haven't seen the SLF for a very long time so having heard they were touring again was keen to check them out. This was the night after the eventful evening in Hoxton (see above), so I was a little jaded and not particularly expecting to enjoy it. However, Jake Burns and the boys blew me away. They played a cracking set of greatest hits that sounded as good as I have ever heard them before.

Friday 22 January 2010

Top 5 Books I read in 2009

I read more books in 2009 than any other year on record (which pretty much means since circa 1989). A grand total of 30 if you include the Wolverine graphic novel. What's more the books I read were generally really good. I've been focusing on reading classics or highly recommended literature and it's paying dividends.

1. "The Old Man & The Sea" Ernest Hemingway - My first Hemingway and a brilliant starter. I've recently rediscovered the joys of the library and thought I'd give this a go as I knew I could read it quickly. It's a subtle and straightforward story about an old fisher man who goes out in search of that one big catch. No doubt there are lots of metaphors and hidden messages that I haven't fully appreciated but it works on every level. Brilliant writing and a great story.

2. "The Man In The High Castle" Philip K. Dick - I picked this up from, of all places, our Doctors waiting room. They've a small table with second hand books for whatever you feel they're worth. Normally it's just you're regular Airport blockbusters but I always have a quick peek. I'm a pretty big fan of PKD and have read quite a few of his best known books but this hadn't entered my radar. The cover looked interesting (I generally find that judging books by their covers works remarkably well) so I thought it was worth a punt at 50p. And so it turned out. A brilliant story about what might have been had the Nazi's won the second world war, one of the best PKD books I've read.

3. "Treasure Island" Robert Louis Stevenson - The second RLS book to make my top five in two years. This is full of every pirate cliche you'll have ever heard but that's mainly because this is the source of the cliches. It's a proper boys own adventure that still hits the spot some 130 years on.

4. "Fight Club" Chuck Palahniuk - I've read two Palahniuk books this year. "Diary" was my first having picked up a copy from someone at work. Having enjoyed that I thought I ought to try the book that brought him to my attention in the first place and wasn't disappointed. If I hadn't seen the film, and therefore, known the twist at the end I think this would have claimed the number one spot. It's excellent writing none the less and may still turn out to be one of my all time favourite books.

5. "Rendezvous with Rama" Arthur C. Clarke - I've not read any A.C. Clarke for a very long time and only picked this up because a mate at work was selling off some old books for charity. It's old fashioned Science Fiction but is as good an example of the genre as you're likely to find. The story sucks you in and won't let you go until you've reached the end. Proof that for all ACC's scientific foresight he still knew how to write a ripping yarn.

Friday 15 January 2010

Top 5 Albums of 2009

A Happy New Year to you all. Think I've just about got over the Christmas eating extravaganza and managed to reset my body clock so that I'm again capable of functioning before 11am. Time for my review of 2009, which should run over the next four or five weeks, first stop Albums. Had planned to have all five done by now but this is the only one ready so it might drag on longer than I intended - great start.

1. Dananananaykroyd "Hey Everyone!" - Debut album from Scottish fight-popsters which amazingly lived up to their live performances. Always tricky for a great live band to reproduce their style on record but the 'Naykroyd succeeded.

2. Bill Callahan "Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle" - The artist formerly known as Smog has not changed dramatically since he started going by his given name. Callahan writes wonderfully subtle yet cutting lyrics and he seems to be getting better with age.

3. The Decemberists "The Hazards Of Love" - It's the drums that did it for me. Their performance of "The Rake's Song" on "Later..." had nearly every member of the band pounding along to the beat. An Indie-Folk version of the Kodo Drummers. The first time I'd heard The Decemberists I dismissed them for being indie-folksters and far too fey. This album sounds a bit more stadium rock, which should be a bad thing, but ... what can I say. In fact there are a number of reasons (rock opera, concept album, repeating song cycles) that mean I shouldn't really like this as much as I do but there's something going on (Prog rock I suspect!) I like a lot.

4. Dan Auerbach "Keep It Hid" - The half of the Black Keys that isn't the drummer goes it alone for a solo album. "Keep It Hid" doesn't stray too far from the Black Keys' bluesy template. Auerbach gets the opportunity to try out a full band for size and achieves a slightly lusher and fuller sound.

5. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears "Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!" - Another "Later ..." spot. Whatever you might think of Jools Holland he does offer great exposure for up and coming bands. This is a 60's Stax style, garage-soul revue, recorded in James Browns attic. It's not breaking any new barriers, and at times it sounds like Motown Karaoke, but it's definitely full on party music!