Saturday 30 December 2017

A Brief Look Back - Albums of the Year

A couple of weeks ago, I dragged my tired old bones off to catch the great Richard Dawson in concert. Long suffering readers of this blog will know just how many years I've waited to witness Dawson treading the boards and I'm delighted to report that he not only lived up to, but exceeded all expectations. 'Peasant' is far and away my favourite new LP of 2017 and this was easily the best gig I've seen all year. Claustrophobic medieval avant-garde folk-noir never sounded so good.

As I've mentioned previously, heavy work commitments have left me with no time to knock out any kind of in depth year-end review - indeed, I'm actually typing this on Xmas Day, my first full day off for two weeks and my last until January 7th 2018! So here, off the top of my head and in no particular order, are a few of the other albums that have rocked my world in 2017.

Flotation Toy Warning - The Machine That Made Us
Sleaford Mods - English Tapas
Davy Kehoe - Short Passing Game
Alasdair Roberts - Pangs
Peter Perrett - How the West Was Won
Low Chimes - Illumine
Michael Head - Adiós Señor Pussycat
Mark Lanegan - Gargoyle
Bonnie Prince Billy - Best Troubadour
Cz101 - 100 Bar Blues
Causa Sui - Vibraciones Doradas
Joshua Abrams - Simultonality
The Prophet Hens - The Wonderful Shapes of Back Door Keys (a 2016 LP, released in Europe this year)
The Myrrors - Hasta La Victoria
Hollow Everdaze - Cartoons
Brix & the Extricated - Part 2
The Granite Shore - Suspended Second
Sparks - Hippopotamus
Kamasi Washington - Harmony of Difference
Robert Plant - Carry Fire
Colter Wall - s/t
Girl Ray - Earl Grey
Pugwash - Silverlake
Four Tet - New Energy
Idles - Brutalism
Jane Weaver - Modern Kosmology
Jake Xerxes Fussell - What In The Natural World
Heron Oblivion - The Chapel
Moon Duo - Occult Architecture 1 & 2
Holly Macve - Golden Eagle
Sacred Paws - Strike a Match
Terry - Remember Terry
Big Blood - The Daughters Union (this would've been my favourite were it not for Richard Dawson)
Nadine Shah - Holiday Destination
Micah P Hinson - Presents the Holy Strangers
Omni - Multi-Task
This is the Kit - Moonshine Freeze

Several of these records (and no doubt some of the others I've forgotten to include) were introduced to me by one or more of my esteemed blogging chums, for which I can never thank you enough. Over the past couple of years I've noticed that I'm falling ever further behind when it comes to contemporary releases, as reissues and new-old discoveries take up more and more of my attention. In 2017, for instance, three of my most played albums have been 'Bright Phoebus' by Lal & Mike Waterson, the Bob Dylan 'Trouble No More' box set and the marvellous Tony Williams Lifetime 'Live in New York', recorded in 1969, but issued for the first time this year on Hi Hat Records. There just aren't enough hours in the day. 'Time....' to quote the great John Cooper Clarke, '....the old enemy on the wrist'.

I'm off to enjoy another festive glass of wine, so I'll stop waffling and take this opportunity to wish one and all a happy, safe and peaceful 2018.

Sunday 24 December 2017

(Merry Xmas) Face The Future

As I suspected might be the case, my recent return to the world of retail has eaten into all of my time over the past couple of weeks. I'm taking every shift that I'm offered, based on the assumption that available hours may be hard to come by in January. I am, however, really looking forward to catching up with the year end reviews and favourite albums lists of my fellow bloggers when things settle down a bit. I've missed out on a lot in 2017, so I welcome the opportunity to fill in some gaps.

In the meantime I'll leave you with what I consider to be the best 'seasonal' single of the last 35 years, from Geoff Barrow's BEAK>. A download of this fabulous tune will set you back a mere quid, all of which will go to The National Elf Service, a mental health charity. Do the right thing here.

To you and yours, from all the gang at Swede Towers, Happy Christmas, however you choose to spend it.

Friday 22 December 2017

Joe Strummer - 15 Years Gone

Fifteen years ago today, the world lost Joe Strummer. Husband, father, guitarist, singer, songwriter, actor, 101er, Latino Rockabilly Warrior, Mescalero and Punk Rock Warlord of The Clash.

Joe Strummer - Nitcomb (Live)

Monday 18 December 2017

Red Gold & Green #25 - RIP Micheal Prophet

I just heard the sad news that the London based, Jamaican vocalist Michael Prophet passed away on Saturday, at the age of 60. Prophet's earliest sides were cut for producer Yabby You in 1977 and in a long career he also worked with the likes of Al Campbell, Sugar Minott, Winston 'Niney' Holness, and Winston Riley. Perhaps his most enduring recordings were those made for Henry 'Junjo' Lawes and released on Greensleeves at the very beginning of the 1980s.  Here's the full 12" version of Michael Prophet's best known song, 'Gunman', from 1981.

Michael Prophet - Gunman

Saturday 16 December 2017

A Word in Your Ear

Since last Sunday, I've been mostly laying in a pool of sweat, in bed or on the sofa, as I struggle with a heavy feverish cold. I managed to drag myself into work for a couple of 4 hour shifts, though I'm not too sure how much actual help I've been. I'm one of the lucky ones, however. A number of poor souls at the store have gone down with the Winter vomiting virus, something that sounds the very antithesis of fun. I've got an 8 hour shift to get through today, days off Sunday & Monday to shake this thing once and for all, then it's non-stop work until Christmas Day.

When I'm feeling this rough, all the things I really enjoy doing go out the window - reading, writing, listening to music and drinking coffee. I have no concentration or appetite for any of 'em. I did manage to make a little mental space for the latest A Word in Your Ear podcast the other day though. Last month's AWIYE featured an excellent interview with the stately Robert Forster. This month couldn't have been more different, as the guest was the Zelig-like raconteur Danny Baker. It's a 90 minute listen that I'd recommend to anyone - you don't need to get all of the cultural references. Several times, I laughed until I very nearly choked. Then, in the very last few minutes, I cried like a baby. It's wonderful stuff and it's free.

Have a listen.

Thursday 14 December 2017

Farewell Pat DiNizio

Following less than a month after the death of Tommy Keene, the world lost another power pop legend on Tuesday, in the shape of Pat DiNizio of The Smithereens, who passed away at the age of 62. The Smithereens formed in 1980 and, at their very best, made a series of carefully crafted pop nuggets sound utterly effortless - a neat trick if you can pull it off. In their long career, the band opened for a veritable who's who of the great and good, including The Ramones, Pretenders, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Lou Reed and Bruce Springsteen. They were also big favourites of a certain Kurt Cobain.

I saw The Smithereens just once, at The London Astoria in 1988. As I recall it, the crowd was thin and strangely unresponsive. The band, however, were on fire, playing as if their lives depended on it.

Rest easy Pat.

The Smithereens - Behind the Wall of Sleep 

The Smithereens - Strangers When We Meet

Friday 8 December 2017

Olden Yolk

I should emphasise that while my recent return to retail may have been unplanned and initiated by financial concerns, I am absolutely loving it. Having spent the past 7 years sat on my arse behind a computer, I'm woefully out of shape, but interacting with people is what I do best, in fact it's arguably the only true skill I have in my armoury. The reason I'm particularly enjoying retail this time round? Simple, I'm not in charge. Since the age of 21, the buck has always seemed to stop with me, or pretty close by me, sometimes in spite of my best efforts to the contrary. Now though, I'm just a hired hand, clocking in, working hard, clocking out and going home. Someone else is paid a lot more than I am to manage labour costs, stock control and all the many other key performance indicators that I stressed about for so many years - I get to concentrate on the really enjoyable bit. Most of the customers are nice, my co-workers are a great bunch and now that the company have invested in a second Christmas CD, things can only get better. A 9 hour shift with just one 45 minute festive compilation on constant repeat is enough to test the resolve of the most benign of temperaments.

Here's another one to watch out for in 2018 - on February 23rd to be precise. That's the release date for Olden Yolk's self titled debut LP on Trouble in Mind Records. The band was put together by Shane Butler and Caity Shaffer as an outlet for songs not used during Butler's day job with Quilt, whose 'Held in Splender' was runner up in my favourite albums of 2014. If the rest of the 'Olden Yolk' is as interesting as 'Takes One to Know One', we'll be in for a treat.

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Nervous Conditions

(Photo by Citizen Meh)

As I hinted a couple of weeks back, a recent unexpected return to the world of retail has severely curtailed my online activities, as I am, to coin a phrase, making hay while the sun shines. Or, if you'd prefer it in plain speak, I'm grabbing every bit of overtime available. This might well mean that there'll be no traditional comprehensive end of year round up from Swede Towers this time around, or at least not this side of Christmas, though I'll do my best to pop up with at least a couple of short posts per week until the end of 2017. I'm also keenly aware that I'm unavoidably neglecting far too many of the fine blogs that are listed on the right hand side of this page, but I'll attempt to play catch-up as and when I'm able. 

Meanwhile, here's a promising bunch of herberts to watch out for in 2018. There are 8 of 'em, they're from Cambridge, they're irritatingly young and they go by the name of Nervous Conditions. They've apparently garnered comparisons with The Fall and Captain Beefheart, but what do I know, I've only heard a couple of their tunes thus far. This particular performance of 'Village Mentality' stopped me dead in my tracks and prompted me to utter that most highly prized of all Swede-isms - it's a thoroughly splendid racket.

Friday 1 December 2017

Version City #67 - Mark Lanegan sings Joy Division

The last time I saw Mark Lanegan treading the boards was 21 years ago, as front man of The Screaming Trees. His output over the intervening years has been prodigious and of a consistently high quality, whether recording under his own name or as a guest vocalist on someone else's project. On Tuesday evening he treated the Norwich Waterfront to a powerful 19 song set, which stuck principally to the more recent entries in that vast back catalogue. Half an hour in we got a fantastic double whammy of 'Nocturne' and 'Beehive', both from this year's 'Gargoyle', quickly followed by a simply staggering rendition of 'Bleeding Muddy Water' from 2012's 'Blues Funeral'. Lanegan's voice seemed in ragged tatters after this epic and for a moment I honestly wondered how he could continue, yet within moments he was crooning effortlessly through a sublime 'Harborview Hospital'.

I was delighted to hear 'One Way Street' delivered as the first encore, 2001's 'Field Songs' is probably my favourite of all his albums. At most other shows on this tour, the encore has concluded with one, sometimes two, Joy Division covers. Not tonight though. The curfew had been reached and there was just time for a brief 'thank you' before he was gone. Here's a version of one of those Joy Division covers, recorded live in 2015.

Mark Lanegan - Atmosphere 

(Previous Mark Lanegan entries in this series here and here)

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