I don’t usually read many books about music in such a short space of time, but I have read some good non-fiction titles on the subject so far this year, which largely conclude that working in the music industry is not very good for your health.
A Seat at the Table: Women on the Frontline of Music by Amy Raphael is a collection of 18 interviews with women who work in the music industry. The interviews were conducted in 2018-19 mostly with singers and songwriters across different genres while composer Jessica Curry, producer Catherine Marks and DJ Clara Amfo all reflect on similar issues with sexism and racism within the industry. In some ways, Alison Moyet and Tracey Thorn’s experiences finding fame in the 1970s and 1980s are a world away from those of the musicians who are starting out today who face the pressures of social media, #MeToo and dwindling album sales due to the rise of streaming, yet there are also some frustrating similarities such as not being taken as seriously as their male counterparts. Raphael has clearly put a lot of thought into the range of interviewees in this collection and it would be interesting to compare this alongside her 1995 companion book ‘Never Mind the Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock’ which includes interviews with the like of Debbie Harry, Courtney Love and Bjork. Continue reading
‘One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time’ by Craig Brown is not a biography which claims to reveal vast amounts of new information or insight about the most famous rock band of all time. As with his 2017 biography of Princess Margaret, Ma’am Darling, Brown favours an anecdotal format, tackling the band’s history from John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s early childhoods in 1940s Liverpool to the band’s split in 1970 across 150 short chapters rather than a straightforward linear narrative.
‘Daisy Jones & The Six’ by Taylor Jenkins Reid charts the rise to fame of a fictional 1970s rock group based in California and the making of their seminal album ‘Aurora’. Billy Dunne formed The Six with his brother Graham and fellow band members, Eddie, Warren, Karen and Pete. Following the success of a collaboration with Daisy Jones, the solo artist and rising star officially joins the group. However, the dynamic between Billy and Daisy as two competing singer-songwriters soon becomes a fraught one when they embark on creating a hit record together. Continue reading
Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2002, ‘Bel Canto’ by Ann Patchett is set during a birthday party for Japanese businessman Katsumi Hosokawa held in his honour at the vice-president’s mansion in an unnamed South American country. While entertainment is provided by renowned American opera singer Roxane Coss, the property is suddenly stormed by terrorists who had originally planned to kidnap the president. However, in his absence, they end up holding dozens of guests under house arrest for several months. Continue reading
‘The Noise of Time’ by Julian Barnes is a fictional account of the life of Dmitri Shostakovich, one of the most famous Russian composers of the twentieth century. The novel focuses on three key points in his life at twelve-year intervals. In the first part, Shostakovich is waiting by a lift shaft expecting the secret police to take him away and interrogate him at The Big House during the height of the purges in 1936. In the second part, he travels to the United States to deliver a speech on behalf of the Soviet Union in 1948. In the final part set in 1960, he is asked to become a party member under Khrushchev. Continue reading
A couple of years ago, I really enjoyed reading Tracey Thorn’s memoir Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Became a Popstar about her career as a solo singer and one half of Everything But The Girl. Earlier this year, I went to see her in conversation with Xan Brooks about her latest book ‘Naked At the Albert Hall: The Inside Story of Singing’ at the Hay Festival. Rather than a second instalment of her memoir, it is a collection of Thorn’s more general thoughts and observations about singing which didn’t fit into the narrative of ‘Bedsit Disco Queen’.
On Saturday, my final day at the Hay Festival, I went to see Helen Macdonald deliver the Samuel Johnson Prize lecture at the Tata tent about ‘H is for Hawk‘ which has won both the Costa Book of the Year and Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction awards. ‘H is for Hawk’ was one of my favourite non-fiction books of 2014 and was the first memoir to win the Samuel Johnson Prize since its launch in 1999. The book comprises of three strands: Macdonald’s experiences of grief following the death of her father in 2007, her attempt to train a goshawk called Mabel and a biography of T. H. White. Her lecture focused on the former two aspects rather than T. H. White’s story. You can watch a clip of the event here where Macdonald describes meeting Mabel for the first time.
Even though I love music, I rarely seek out autobiographies or biographies about musicians. In fact, I don’t think I have read any books even vaguely related to music since starting this blog over eighteen months ago. However, I love love LOVE Tracey Thorn and was very excited to get hold of a copy of her memoir ‘Bedsit Disco Queen: How I grew up and tried to be a popstar’ at the library this week. If her writing was half as eloquent and understated as her songwriting, then I knew I would be in for a treat. Continue reading
The Mercury Prize (sorry, Barclaycard Mercury Prize) nominations are out. Here is the shortlist for this year’s prize:
Richard Hawley: Standing At The Sky’s Edge
Plan B: Ill Manors
Alt-J: An Awesome Wave
Django Django: Django Django
The Maccabees: Given To The Wild
Jessie Ware: Devotion
Ben Howard: Every Kingdom
Michael Kiwanuka: Home Again
Lianne La Havas: Is Your Love Big Enough?
Field Music: Plumb
Roller Trio: Roller Trio
Sam Lee: Ground Of Its Own
Admittedly, all of these records sound good at any time of year but they always remind me of the summer time 🙂
1) Weezer: The Blue Album (1994)
Teenage boy angst at its glorious best. Garage rock is synonymous with summertime in my mind. I played this record to death when I was fourteen when I wanted Rivers Cuomo to marry me (actually, I still do). I could easily have chosen ‘The Green Album’ for this list as well but the Blue Album is more consistent and has definitely stood the test of time eighteen years after it was first released. Geeks of the world, unite.
2) Best Coast: Crazy For You (2010)
Teenage girl angst at its glorious best. Everything about Best Coast from the band’s name, the cover of their debut album and all twelve tracks ooze California sun. Nostalgic, lazy and sunny, there aren’t exactly any major variations between each 2 minute song but why fix something when it ain’t broke?
I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of ‘Yesterday and Today’ by The Field in an Oxfam shop of all places today. Given that the selection of CDs in charity shops usually consists of records by boybands like Another Level and other examples of the very worst of 90’s pop music that everybody wants to forget about, minimal techno music is an extremely rare find.
‘Yesterday and Today’ may only comprise six tracks but it still stretches to just over an hour of aesthetically rich layering and looping with barely a moment wasted. As is true of all the best electronic music (and all its sub-genres), listening to ‘Yesterday and Today’ is pure escapism. Album opener, ‘I Have the Moon, You Have the Internet’, builds slowly but ends satisfyingly. John Stanier’s guest appearance on the title track is a highlight with his math rock drumming in perfect collaboration with Axel Willner’s complex sound textures. Only the cover of the Korgis’ ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’ seems out of place. It’s not badbut it sounds like The Field couldn’t decide whether to do a straight-up cover or a proper remix of the song which is a little frustrating.
Futuristic, hypnotic, eclectic and melodic, ‘Yesterday and Today’ is a stunning record which is both absorbing and more accessible than the words ‘minimal techno’ might have you think. It’s repetitive, yes, but in a good way. And given that I find a good CD in a charity shop about once every three years, I think I’ll have to investigate The Field’s other albums a little sooner than that.
Am I the only person who still likes Battles just as much as when Tyondai Braxton was still a member of the group? Yes, it’s true that the band have yet to reach the gloriously dizzy heights of ‘Atlas’ again since ‘Mirrored’ was released in 2007 . But I still really like ‘Gloss Drop’ which was one of my favourite albums of 2011 and definitely one of the most memorable album covers from that year too. Having now listened to the consistently brilliant new remix album ‘Dross Glop’, I hope that people will now start to hear things in the original album that maybe they had missed before. This is something of a paradox though because unsurprisingly, many of the original songs are almost beyond recognition in their remixed form given that experimental artists such as The Field and Qluster have been let loose on them. As a result, some are obviously more accessible than others with Silent Service’s remix of ‘Inchworm’ probably being the least listenable. But Gui Boratto’s version of ‘Wall Street’ is an excellent opener and Gang Gang Dance’s take on ‘Ice Cream’ loses none of the fun of the original. Like most remix collections, ‘Dross Glop’ doesn’t exactly hang together well as an album but it is still a fresh and interesting listen. Continue reading