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My freelance writing can now be found at mikeatkinson.wordpress.com.
Recently: VV Brown, Alabama 3, Just Jack, Phantom Band, Frankmusik, Twilight Sad, Slaid Cleaves, Alesha Dixon, Bellowhead, The Unthanks, Dizzee Rascal.
On Thursday September 17th, I danced on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
Click here to watch, and here to listen.
Saturday, March 08, 2008
Which Decade: Cumulative scores, after six years.
(Click here to view all of this year's Which Decade posts on one page.)
1 (1) The 1960s - 205 points.
2 (2) The 1970s - 202 points.
3 (3) The 1980s - 182 points.
4 (4) The 2000s - 164 points.
5 (5) The 1990s - 150 points.
Although the positions on our cumulative league table remain unchanged, it's worth looking a little more closely at the gaps between each decade.
At the top of the table, the 1970s are still chasing the 1960s hard, with last year's two point difference widening to a mere three points. However, these two decades are now pulling ever clearer of their nearest rivals, as last year's 7 point gap between the 1970s and 1980s becomes a yawning 20 point chasm.
The 2000s are making reasonable ground, but with last year's 26 point lag behind the 1980s only reducing to 18 points, they still have a lot of work to do. As for the 1990s, now lagging by 14 points as compared to last year's 8, it does look as if they are already out for the count.
I think it's time for a graph, don't you? This shows the waxing and waning fortunes of each decade over the past six years. I'm not sure that it proves anything, but doesn't it look nice?
Finally, and in accordance with Which Decade custom, it only remains for me to thank everyone who voted: Adrian, Alan, anne, asta, betty, Bryany, Cathy, chris, Clair, David, diamond geezer, Dymbel, Erithian, Geoff, Gert, Gordon, Hg, imsodave, jeff w, jo, JonnyB, Lizzy, LKSN, lockedintheattic, Lyle, Marcello, NiC, Nikki, Nottingham's 'Mr Sex', Oliver, Rebecca, Rob, Sarah, Silverfin, Simon, Simon C, Stereoboard, Stu, SwissToni, The commenter formerly known as, Tina, Tom, Vicus Scurra, Will and Z. Nearly everyone who took part in last year's Which Decade came back again this year, which is particularly heart-warming - as is the record number of votes cast, with all rounds picking up over 30 sets of votes for the first time, and some even touching a new high of 40 votes. (Frankly, I'm not sure that I could have coped with many more.)
The Golden Notepad award for Outstanding Commenting goes this year - and how could it not? - to Marcello, whose extraordinary expert knowledge combined with his real passion for the subject has added much to the enjoyment of the last three weeks. Oh, and he also happens to be my favourite music writer on the planet, so it has been a joy to have him along.
As ever, it's been a phenomenally labour-intensive but also richly rewarding slog, and I look forward to welcoming you all back next February, for what could be our final episode of... Which Decade Is Tops For Pops?
Thank you, and goodnight.
Which decade is Tops for Pops? - the results: THE WINNER.
1st place - The 1960s. (36 points + 1 tiebreak point)
2007: 1st place, 34 points.
2006: 2nd place, 37 points.
2005: 2nd place, 33 points.
2004: 1st place, 36 points.
2003: 3rd place, 28 points.
10. Gimme Little Sign - Brenton Wood. 4 points.
9. Judy In Disguise (With Glasses) - John Fred & His Playboy Band. 5 points.
8. Fire Brigade - The Move. 4 points.
7. Pictures Of Matchstick Men - Status Quo. 4 points.
6. Am I That Easy To Forget - Engelbert Humperdinck. 1 point, least popular.
5. Bend Me Shape Me - Amen Corner. 5 points.
4. Everlasting Love - The Love Affair. 5 points, most popular.
3. She Wears My Ring - Solomon King. 1 points.
2. Cinderella Rockefella - Esther & Abi Ofarim. 4 points.
1. Mighty Quinn - Manfred Mann. 3 points.
This Guy's In Love With You - Herb Alpert. 4 points.
Fire - The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. 5 points.
Mony Mony - Tommy James and the Shondells. 6 points.
Yes indeed: for the third time in six years, the Sixties have swung it - meaning that either you lot are tiresomely predictable, or else that the music from four decades ago was consistently wonderful.
Looking at this little lot, one has to veer towards the latter conclusion. The creative rush of the beat boom (and its close successor, the Summer of Love) was abating, in favour of a lighter, more overtly commercial sound - but there was still an unmistakeable optimism in the air, as evidenced by all that strident brass, those straight-up boom-thwack beats, that toytown surrealism, and those soaring feelgood choruses.
Sure, Englebert and Solomon did their best to poop the party, but they feel irrelevant to the spirit of the age - especially when compared to the exquisite and heart-melting easy listening of Herb Alpert, one of my best finds of this year's project. (If you only click on one of the YouTube links, then take a look at Herb in action, and then try telling me you haven't fallen in love with him just a little.)
Meanwhile, the Heavy Brigade were moving elsewhere, as the first divisions between "serious" and "disposable" began to make themselves felt. It was the dawn of that most obstructive of creatures, the Rock Snob - and perhaps the first example of pop music's periodic need to shed its skin, and to re-engage with a new set of believers.
So let's leave the "heads" to sneer at the Amen Corner and the Love Affair, while we more enlightened souls raise a glass (I've actually just finished my third, but hey, it's Saturday night) to our winners... our official, mathematically proven Tops For Pops decade... ladies and gentlemen, guys and gals, I give you... THE SIXTIES!
Which Decade: your Top Ten and your Bottom Five.
Just before we announce our winning decade, let's look back at Those You Loved, and Those You Loathed. Positions are calculated by dividing the numbers of points scored by the number of people voting on that particular day... which is all rather good news for our winner, who benefitted to no small degree from being up against a bad bunch. Tsk, statistics eh?
1. I Think We're Alone Now - Tiffany.
2. Never Ever - All Saints.
3. Take A Chance On Me - Abba.
4. Everlasting Love - The Love Affair.
5. Mr. Blue Sky - Electric Light Orchestra.
6. Uptown Top Ranking - Althea & Donna.
7. Bend Me Shape Me - Amen Corner.
8. A&E - Goldfrapp.
9. Wishing On A Star - Rose Royce.
10. Fire Brigade - The Move.
46. Valentine - T'Pau.
47. All I Have To Give - Backstreet Boys.
48. Am I That Easy To Forget - Engelbert Humperdinck.
49. My Heart Will Go On - Celine Dion.
50. Cleopatra's Theme - Cleopatra.
Which decade is Tops for Pops? - the results: 2nd place.
2nd place - The 1970s. (36 points)
2007: 3rd place, 31 points.
2006: 1st place, 38 points.
2005: 3rd place, 30 points.
2004: 2nd place, 31 points.
2003: 1st place, 35 points + 1 tiebreak point.
10. Sorry I'm A Lady - Baccara. 2 points.
9. Love Is Like Oxygen - The Sweet. 4 points.
8. Mr. Blue Sky - Electric Light Orchestra. 5 points.
7. Uptown Top Ranking - Althea & Donna. 5 points.
6. Wishing On A Star - Rose Royce. 5 points.
5. Hot Legs - Rod Stewart. 2 points.
4. Come Back My Love - Darts. 4 points.
3. If I Had Words - Scott Fitzgerald & Yvonne Keeley with the St. Thomas More School Choir. 2 points.
2. Figaro - Brotherhood Of Man. 2 points, least popular.
1. Take A Chance On Me - Abba. 5 points, most popular.
Substitute - Clout. 2 points.
You're The One That I Want - John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John. 3 points.
Three Times A Lady - The Commodores. 1 point.
For the second time in Which Decade history, our leading decades have been obliged to submit to the rigours of a tie-break. Five years ago, the 1970s came out on top - but this year, the combined might of Clout, Grease and The Commodores were not sufficient to save them.
Like our 2008 chart, there's something prematurely old-fashioned about the selection from 1978. There's straight-up 1950s revivalism from Darts, which is echoed in the rather mangled take on the decade from Travolta and Newton-John. There are some well-established hit-makers (Abba, Rod Stewart, ELO), doing their well-established thing, and there's even an unexpected last gasp from The Sweet. Disco is poorly represented by Baccara, and new wave isn't represented at all. Instead, our one nod towards the contemporary comes from Althea and Donna, representing a fluke break-out for a habitually underground culture.
So for the most part, it all feels like business as usual - which makes the changes that were shortly to sweep over the charts all the more unexpected, and all the more welcome. Yes, chart pop was about to drop another generation, but you'll have to wait another year (at the very least) to find out how the first representatives of that generation - hell, of my generation - made that change.
Which decade is Tops for Pops? - the results: 3rd place.
3rd place - The 2000s. (31 points)
2007: 2nd place, 32 points.
2006: Equal 4th place, 21 points.
2005: 4th place, 27 points.
2004: 5th place, 26 points.
2003: 4th place, 27 points.
10. A&E - Goldfrapp. 5 points, most popular.
9. I Thought It Was Over - The Feeling. 2 points.
8. Work - Kelly Rowland. 2 points.
7. What's It Gonna Be - H "two" O featuring Platnum. 2 points, least popular.
6. Don't Stop The Music - Rihanna. 4 points (tied position).
5. Chasing Pavements - Adele. 3 points.
4. Sun Goes Down - David Jordan. 3 points.
3. Now You're Gone - Basshunter. 3 points.
2. Rockstar - Nickelback. 3 points.
1. Mercy - Duffy. 4 points.
Ah. And this, folks, is where my "dropping a generation" theory runs into choppy waters. For what do we have here, but precisely the sort of retro-flavoured, adult-friendly, "quality" tunes that are bound to find favour with my dominant voting demographic, hence this eminently respectable third placing?
For here are Adele - the anointed successor to Amy Winehouse - and her anointed successor (for doesn't Adele-mania already seem like months ago?), "don't call me Aimee" Duffy, both delivering solid, bankable (if precocious) evocations of classic songwriting styles. And here are The Feeling, still ploughing the Guilty Pleasures 1970s soft-rocking furrow (and at the time of writing, The Feeling are a few minutes away from appearing on a prime time ITV1 show of the same name, with their "ironic" cover of Buggles' Video Killed The Radio Star).
And speaking of Trevor Horn: here's the reliable old master back in action, producing a tune from David Jordan which could have existed at any time during the last 20 years or so. Oh, and there's Nickelback, with their quite extraordinarily retrograde Mezozoic Era "rawk" (featuring a special guest appearance from one of the beardy blokes in ZZ Top), and there's Kelly Rowland, working that tired old Bhangra Knight Rider sample from five years ago... you get the picture? (Yes, we see.)
Meanwhile, when Ver Kids do get a look-in, with the utterly splendid What's It Gonna Be, you lot only go and give it the lowest average mark of anything in the 2008 Top Ten! What are we going to do with you, eh? Well, at least we all achieved some sort of cross-generational consensus with Rihanna, so let us be grateful for that.
So, I'm a little conflicted here. Delighted that the 2000s have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, especially after the humilations of Years One to Four - but a little saddened that they have done so by coming over all fuddy-duddy in the process. But mostly, I'm pleased that popular culture isn't on an irreversible one-way journey to hell in a handcart after all....
Which decade is Tops for Pops? - the results: 4th place.
4th place - The 1990s. (25 points)
2007: 5th place, 26 points.
2006: Equal 4th place, 21 points.
2005: 5th place, 26 points.
2004: 4th place, 27 points.
2003: 5th place, 25 points.
10. Together Again - Janet Jackson. 3 points.
9. High - The Lighthouse Family. 3 points.
8. You Make Me Wanna... - Usher. 3 points.
7. Gettin' Jiggy With It - Will Smith. 3 points.
6. Angels - Robbie Williams. 4 points (tied position).
5. Cleopatra's Theme - Cleopatra. 1 point, least popular.
4. My Heart Will Go On - Celine Dion. 1 point.
3. Never Ever - All Saints. 5 points, most popular.
2. All I Have To Give - Backstreet Boys. 1 point.
1. Doctor Jones - Aqua. 1 point.
While our 1988 Top 10 began badly, it was in its upper reaches that our 1998 Top 10 floundered the most, with Cleopatra, Celine Dion, the Backstreet Boys and Aqua all placing last. As such, this is another wretched result for our most wretched of decades, which after six years of trying has never placed higher than fourth.
Remember that theory which I aired in the previous post? (And if you're reading these posts out of sequence, then kindly desist.) Well, I'd argue that the "dropping a generation" theory holds true here as well. With Britpop a spent force, the Spice Girls had heralded a return to "pure" pop - or, as the disgruntled Oasis fans of the day would have it, shallow, manufactured, production line... well, I'm sure you can fill the rest in by now.
And so we had All Saints (on the plus side) and Cleopatra (on the minus side), continuing the boom in Girl Power Pop (for which see also B*Witched, Billie and the aforementioned filles d'espice). Aqua were serving the pre-teens, all the while tipping a cheeky wink to an older crowd who could see through their subversions. Best of all, Usher was in the vanguard of nu-R&B, showing the way forward with his superb You Make Me Wanna. And worst of all, the Backstreet Boys were pointing the way towards all the truly mind-numbing, truly production-line, identikit boy-band balladry that was to follow (yes, of course I mean Westlife).
By 2000 and 2001, this rebirth of "pure pop" had reached something of an apex, with all manner of boundary-stretching greatness charting high. But none of this helps our dear old 1990s, lumbering under the weight of crap pop-rap, coffee-table soul, and the deathless caterwauling of Celine. 1998, was this really all you had to give?
Which decade is Tops for Pops? - the results: 5th place.
5th place - The 1980s. (23 points)
2007: 4th place, 27 points.
2006: 3rd place, 33 points.
2005: 1st place, 34 points.
2004: 3rd place, 30 points.
2003: 2nd place, 35 points.
10. The Jack That House Built - Jack 'N' Chill. 1 point.
9. Shake Your Love - Debbie Gibson. 1 point.
8. Valentine - T'Pau. 1 point, least popular.
7. Say It Again - Jermaine Stewart. 1 point.
6. When Will I Be Famous - Bros. 2 points.
5. Beat Dis - Bomb The Bass. 4 points.
4. Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car - Billy Ocean. 2 points.
3. Tell It To My Heart - Taylor Dayne. 4 points.
2. I Think We're Alone Now - Tiffany. 5 points, most popular.
1. I Should Be So Lucky - Kylie Minogue. 2 points.
Oh, Eighties! Whatever happened, that a once mighty decade should sink so low?
Five years ago, the 1983 chart was so strong that the results had to be decided by tie-break. Three years ago, the 1985 chart emerged as our outright champion. Last year, the 1987 chart hit a record low - and this year, the shoddy sounds of 1988 have disgraced the entire decade.
Although things picked up a little towards the end, with respectable placings for Bomb The Bass and Taylor Dayne and even a lone victory for Tiffany, 1988 was never going to recover from that disastrous opening run of four consecutive last places: Jack 'N' Chill, Debbie Gibson, T'Pau and Jermaine Stewart.
And time and again, the same complaint was voiced in the comments box: it was that cheap, tinny, synthetic production job that you hated the most, be it from Jack 'N' Chill's Woolworths-own-brand take on house music, from the brash aspirationalism of Bros, or from the rattling and clattering of cut-price diva Taylor Dayne.
I have been revisiting and refining a favourite theory over the past couple of weeks: namely that towards the end of each decade, chart pop drops a generation, leaving those who thought that pop was always going to grow with them feeling scornful and betrayed. In this instance - and as someone who was a 26 year old DJ in an "alternative" nightclub at the time, I can speak with some measure of authority - it was Kylie, Tiffany and Bros who grated on our sensibilities the most (the equally youthful Debbie Gibson being too marginal a figure to care about). God, but we hated them all with a passion: they were "production line"; they were "plastic"; they endorsed Thatcherist values (whether they knew it or not, but WE COULD TELL); and they were everything that some of us hated disco music for in the late 1970s ("mindless brainwash music for the masses").
Meanwhile, in a handful of clubs in the London area, a new movement was brewing which would provide pop's next great paradigm shift. Like the paradigm shift of punk before it, acid house (and its close siblings, techno and rave) never really dominated the charts; instead, they had to content themselves with Changing Everything. Down at my club night, we were already transforming the venue with home-made smiley-faced banners; a month or so later, we even gave away matching badges to everyone who walked through the door. There were faint clues in the Bomb The Bass record, and there would be stronger clues in a couple of future Number Ones: Theme From S-Express and The Only Way Is Up.
A seminal year for youth culture it might have been; but at our chosen point in time, it was still a shit period for chart pop. Better luck next year, eh?
Duffy - Nottingham Bodega Social Club, Friday March 7.
(Yesterday marked the end of my Four Gigs In Four Nights Project. Here's the final instalment.)
If Duffy's swift and seemingly effortless rise to fame has sometimes felt like the work of an uncommonly slick and efficient marketing machine, then you have to wonder what glitch in the masterplan allowed her to end up playing a tiny venue like the Bodega. With Mercy enjoying at its third week at Number One, and with her debut album Rockferry set to enter the charts at the same position, she could have filled a venue five times the size -- and so it was very much to her credit that she opted to honour the booking.
As the Bodega isn't exactly in the business of hosting chart-topping acts, there was a palpable sense of occasion in the room, as the lucky few jostled for position. In keeping with the singer's star status, a full-sized mixing desk had been installed, reducing the available space still further. If our applause seemed muted, it was simply because we were wedged in so tightly that clapping had become a physical impossibility.
For Duffy herself, the show represented a fresh opportunity: to play her songs to an audience who were already familiar with them. Her excitement was evident, and charmingly genuine. Instead of the cool, untouchable professional polish that might have been expected, she radiated an unspun, girl-next-door quality, still very much the former Welsh waitress made good, and with something of the friendly, homely appeal of a young Dolly Parton. Even her slightly gawky stage banter ("and my next song is called...") worked to her advantage, bringing her appeal down to a thoroughly human level.
When a dramatic pause in one song accidentally exposed one audience member in full (and foul-mouthed) conversational flow, she milked the moment to full advantage: grinning in mock-horror, sharing the joke, and stretching the pause almost to breaking point before resuming the song to loud whoops of appreciation. "You're so... fluffy!", exclaimed one excited punter. "Yeah -- fluffy Duffy!", she beamed, lapping up the compliment.
Although breathless comparisons have been made with Amy Winehouse and even Dusty Springfield, these do not serve her well. Vocally, the 23-year old is a good deal more eager Lulu than measured Dusty -- but as some clued-up commentators have already spotted (and as a few visits to YouTube will confirm), her singing bears a particularly striking resemblance to the long-forgotten early 1980s singer Carmel.
Right from the first few notes of the opening number Rockferry, it was clear that the bright young starlet had the vocal skills to justify the hype. Hers is a powerful, dramatic instrument, which can confidently ride a melody and sweep you up with its sheer force. Yes, it still lacks a certain emotional depth -- but equally, it doesn't seek to compensate with false shows of manufactured melodrama.
For Duffy is who she is: an essentially cheerful girl, who readily confessed that she had never truly been in love ("Or maybe I have? Oh, I don't know! What is love, anyway?"), and whose strongest suit is a gently assertive, not-going-to-take-any-nonsense-from-you-mister approach. By and large, her songs are not yet written from personal experience, and nor do they claim to be. Either that will come in time, raising her artistry to greater heights, or else Duffy will settle into the sort of role previously occupied by the likes of Sam Brown: a happy trouper, with many years of guest appearances with Jools Holland ahead of her. It will be fascinating to see how she develops -- and after last night's wholly delightful performance, only the most grudging of cynics could fail to wish her well.
(Photo taken at the Bristol Thekla on February 26th 2008 by podiluska, and reproduced under a Creative Commons non-commercial attribution license.)
See also: Drowned In Sound's review of the same show.
Friday, March 07, 2008
Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? - results to follow on Saturday.
Apologies for the short delay, folks. I'm in the middle of a Four Gigs In Four Nights Project (see below), and so both time and energy have been limited.
(Four gigs in four nights? At my age? I'd say "mid-life crisis", but we passed that point some years ago...)
Anywhow, the full results service will appear at spasmodic intervals over the course of Saturday... and that's a promise.
Interview: Ian Parton, The Go! Team
As the leader of The Go! Team, to what extent do you control everything that goes on?
The Go! Team sound is a lot to do with stuff Iíve always dug. Itís almost like my record collection melted down. I started the group, I wrote the first album, and I did all that myself really. The band came together because I really wanted to do things as a gang. There was certainly no plan to do it as a laptop thing, because itís just dull, and itís been done. There were no auditions, and no kind of grand plan. I really got it together just for one gig in Sweden in 2004, with the idea of: letís get through this, letís see if I can blag it, letís pretend weíre a band for one festival. Then we just took it from there. We never really spoke about the future. It was just like, OK, weíve got another one in a weekís time, and do you want do that? So I guess we got to know each other on the road.
Two years later, when it was time to make another record, I wanted to involve everyone in the recording process. So we all went into the studio, and everyone did their own instrumental parts, but the songwriting is still a lot to do with me. There are also lots of collaborations, with people around the world. Ninja wrote a lot of the lyrics, particularly for the live show. I also like to get involved in the videos and the whole visual side Ė but apart from that, every other decision is made as a band.
So itís still your creative vision as interpreted by others, even though they might bring some of their own stuff to it.
I guess so. I wrote the songs, so I suppose that defines the sound. Weíre all quite different people, and there are different kinds of playing styles, so that comes through. Maybe the next album will be more of a jam-off, but Iíve got an inkling that it might not sound like the Go! Team. It might sound good and noisy, with lots of wigging out and thrashing around, because weíre all noise fans Ė but Iím not a great believer in jamming. Iím more of grafter. Itís more a case of trial and error: trying things out, storing them away and then pulling them out again.
Jamming can be a dead endÖ
Iím sure it works for some bands, but Iím a terrible jammer.
Well, you can be one step away from the Jools Holland end of things, if youíre not careful. (Laughter) Enjoyable to play, but it can sometimes lose creative focus.
I like to hoard melodies, and then revisit them. Itís that kind of distance you get when you have an idea, but when you listen back two weeks later itís almost not your idea anymore. You can say: oh thatís alright, Iíll use that. Or you can say: no, thatís shit.
You can sometimes start with one idea, and by the time the trackís finished it has warped and shifted so much that itís ended up in a different place.
(Dubiously) Well, every song starts with one kick-ass idea that I definitely think is worthy of using. Then it builds out from there, and youíll try other ideas next to it. Iím really interested in contrasts, and different styles of music rubbing shoulders. So a song will grow out, and spread into three minutes that will be worth listening to.
To my ears, it certainly sounds as if the first album was more of a studio project, whereas the second album does sound more like the work of a live band. Thereís a more unified sound, in terms of the instrumentation and the line-up.
Yeah, I think so. I certainly wanted it to be more kick-ass and more ballsy, with thrashy guitars and the drums kicking in more Ė which is a lot more like the live show.
Barring a couple of tracks, thereís a kind of full tilt, ecstatic energy level to it, which you manage to maintain pretty well throughout.
Yeah, some people find it a bit wearing. (Laughs) But I wanted it to be an all-out thirty minute assault.
Itís certainly that. Thereís something that I like about the vocals, in that they remind me of late 1980s party-rap, such as the Cookie Crew and people like that. Thereís a kind of playground quality at work. Was that era an influence?
Definitely the early hip hop stuff. I wanted people to imagine street corners and sports halls, rather than studios. I like ďfound soundsĒ, which is how some of the vocals on the album came about. We used a chant team in Washington DC, where a geezer just turned up to one of their practices, stuck some microphones up, and said: just do something. It was the same with the Double Dutch Divas, a jump rope team from Brooklyn, who have been going since around 1979, and who have toured with the Fat Boys and Run DMC.
I didnít even know that whole tradition was still continuing. Itís a tradition which seems to have got lost.
Yeah, that kind of jump rope, chanting stuff has always been an influence to me, and I felt it was underused. And that girl gang feel is something Iím always drawn towards. I want people to imagine girl gangs, with baseball bats, taking to the streets.
I guess you must be a crate digger to a certain degree, in terms of that samples that youíve managed to dig up.
Iím not super-knowledgeable, but Iím always hustling for it. People give me stacks of easy listening records, and 99% of it is bollocks, but there will be the occasional moment of usable stuff. I look out for Blaxploitation soundtracks, Bollywood soundtracks and all kinds of blaring, brash stuff from unusual places Ė but hopefully nothing too obvious.
How do you translate that sort of sound to a live setting?
Itís a shifting kind of line-up. There are six of us: three girls and three blokes. Three of us can drum, so at times there are two people drumming. I play harmonica, drums and guitar, Kaori plays recorder and glockenspiel, and so thereís loads of swapping. The samples are set in stone: theyíre off, theyíre doing their thing. We didnít really make that a part of the visual thing, because itís quite dull. We could have had someone with a laptop, pressing buttons, butÖ
Laptops on stage can be deathly, canít they?
Itís a kind of wall of sound, I guess. Thereís so much going on, with six people plus a whole bunch of samples, so for the sound man itís a real feat. (Laughs) Thereís a real art to getting everything balanced.
Without it just completely disintegrating into a mush, and everything cranked up to maximumÖ
It has just taken peopleís heads off. Itís probably more ballsy live than it is on record.
Good God! The music sometimes sounds as if itís teetering on the brink of chaos, but then it just stops short. Do you retain that element?
Yeah, chaos is a plus in my book. If someone asked me what was my dream gig, I think chaos would be the key word. Particularly in the crowd. I dig that idea of the whole room descending into chaos!
So, is slickness the enemy?
I thank thatís actually a quote, isnít it?
Oh, is it? I actually thought that was an original observation! (Laughs nervously)
Well no, I think Iíve actually said those words on a press release.
Have you? Oh, I didnít see any press releasesÖ (*)
But yeah, pretty much. Like you say, youíve got to draw a line somewhere. Itís a lot to do with the reaction to current production styles. When you turn on Radio One and you hear the latest song from Keane or Coldplay, itís all very lavish and very panoramic. You know that theyíve spunked thousands of pounds on the best studio, with the best producer, and that itís the best it could ever sound. For me, that sucks all the life out of it. Itís certainly helpful for getting a hit, because it suckers the listener into thinking that itís a real piece of work Ė but I always want people to think of immediacy, spontaneity and energy. I want people to imagine us recording in a garage, rather than a £2000 a day residential studio.
Are there any other acts currently around with whom you feel any kinship?
I wouldnít say kinship. There are some good bands out there: I think Deerhoof are one of the best bands around, and thereís Black Moth Super Rainbow, who are like a low-fi version of Boards Of Canada. And also Caribou.
Youíre a Brighton band, and I always get the impression that Brighton punches well above its weight, in terms of producing successful and interesting acts. Do you feel part of a scene there?
No, not really. There isnít really a scene, in terms of one uniform sound that comes out of Brighton, as itís a real passing-through kind of town. Not many people who live here actually grew up here, so thereís not the sort of pride, or the sense of identity, that you would get in Manchester. I donít think Southerners particularly have that same pride or identity. So you get lots of different kinds of bands. What have British Sea Power got to do with the Kooks, or with The Pipettes, or with us? But there are lots of good noise bands here, and I think thatís underrated.
I inevitably link you back to Big Beat, in that youíre mixing funk and rock and rap, in an upbeat, celebratory way. I wondered if you felt part of that traditionÖ
No, I wouldnít say so. I canít stand Fatboy Slim, really.
I think it had a bit of a bargain basement dimension. It was almost like a gold rush. It was like: who can get to the sample first, and put a beat behind it.
And it spawned a rush of imitators, so I guess you must have had a lot of that.
Yeah, it had a kind of cheeky, cheap feel to it.
I know what youíre saying. Obvious tricks. OK, final question: what is your plan for 2008? What do you want to do with the band next?
There are lots of interesting gigs coming up: Mexico, maybe Africa, and back to Japan. But really, just to keep writing. Iím always hustling for that next song, and I think thereís a lot more mileage in schizophrenic kind of songs. I want to push the idea of channel-hopping, where very different things are rubbing shoulders, with very different kinds of production within a song. So Iíll just keep working away on that.
I hope youíre not going to be one of these bands that keep everyone waiting for three years between albums, because that hacks me right off.
Like the last one, hmm? (Laughter)
(*) I really didn't see any press releases, you know. And I've Googled for the phrases, and everything! It was an original observation, dammit! (Wanders off, gibbering...)
The Beat / Neville Staple Ė Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Thursday March 6.
Former Specials and Fun Boy Three front man Neville Staple is 53, and as up for it as ever. Although never exactly the creative powerhouse of either band, he brought a spirited vitality to both Ė and with his current and surprisingly excellent team of backing musicians, that same spirit remains gloriously undimmed. As they ploughed their way through old ska classics (Monkey Man, Pressure Drop) and Specials favourites (Gangsters, Rat Race, Ghost Town), you were left wondering why they hadnít been the headline act all along.
Following such all-out mayhem, The Beat had a tough job maintaining the same momentum Ė but their looser, dubbier, more fluid and spacious sound eventually restored energy levels to maximum. Although only two original members remain Ė drummer Everett Morton and singer Ranking Roger Ė the spirit of the old recordings shone through, boosted by some splendid sax playing from an uncredited new member, who bore a distinct resemblance to original band leader Dave Wakeling. Additional vocal contributions came from Rogerís son, Ranking Junior, whose youthful braggadocio brought an extra edge to the performance. Of the old hits, Too Nice To Talk To and Mirror In The Bathroom sounded particularly fine, reminding us of a remarkable period in British musical history.
(Photo of Neville Staple taken on August 30th 2007 by nacaseven, and reproduced under a Creative Commons non-commercial attribution license.)
Gary Numan: Replicas tour, Nottingham Rock City, Wednesday March 5.
At most shows, thereís something both distracting and annoying about the inevitable sea of phone screens, wafting above the heads of the crowd. At last nightís re-creation of Replicas Ė Gary Numanís 1979 breakthrough album, which famously deals with themes of alienation in an increasingly mechanised world Ė the phenomenon seemed almost appropriate, as if the phone-wielders could only experience the show at one remove.
In a rare concession to nostalgia, the album was performed in full, albeit in a different track sequence, and augmented by sundry B-sides and outtakes from the same period. Considering the critical panning that Replicas was given at the time, the songs held up magnificently, sounding as fresh and as relevant as ever.
As for Numan, who turns fifty on Saturday, middle age had not dimmed his singular and remarkable charisma in any respect, the cragginess of his face somehow serving to accentuate that essential other-ness. More crucially, his absolute belief in the old material Ė the anthemic Down In The Park, the helpless Me I Disconnect From You, the prophetic We Are So Fragile Ė was palpable, and helped to fuel a truly compelling performance.
Three decades ago, the rock snobs dismissed Numan as an opportunistic Bowie copyist, whose fluked fame would quickly fade. How wrong they were. Thirty years on, with his reputation fully restored and his influence widely acknowledged, the last laugh belongs not to the cracked actor who fell to earth, but to the authentically angst-driven alien who came in from the cold.
Delays Ė Nottingham Bodega Social Club Ė Tuesday March 4.
Itís unusual for a young, fairly successful band to play progressively smaller venues with each visit Ė but unaccountably, Southampton four-piece Delays have managed to slide from the capacious (Trent University, 2004) to the comfortable (Rescue Rooms, 2006) to the compact (Bodega Social, last night). For a band of their undoubted abilities, whose brand of good-natured, well-turned indie-power-pop compares more than favourably with the competition, this seems less than fair.
Still looking astonishingly youthful, and with a third album ready to drop next month, the band kicked off the hour-long set with perhaps their best known number, Long Time Coming. New material such as forthcoming single Hooray and the impressive sounding Pieces held their own against the instantly recognisable glam-rock stomp of Hideaway and the electronically propulsive set-closer Valentine Ė but there were few signs of any major musical progression. This is a band who knows what theyíre good at, and who have chosen to stick within their limits.
Perhaps it was the messy sound mix (had there been a proper sound check?), or perhaps it was the crowdís reserve (ďTheyíve got rigor mortis!Ē wailed one frustrated punter), but things never quite gelled. Maybe it was just the wrong venue, on the wrong night.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? - Year 6 - Tie-break.
Click here to view all the Which Decade entries on one page.
The comments boxes are closed. Your votes have been counted and verified. And I can now reveal that, for the first time in five years, we have a dead heat for first position. Which can only mean one thing...
We go to tie-break. Repeat: we go to tie-break!
It has occasionally been suggested that, were we to pick charts from the summer months rather than miserable old February every year, we might end up with a stronger selection. In that spirit, let us travel forwards in time...
...until we land precisely six months later, in mid-August. Mmm, feel the warmth! You might want to lose those bulky sweaters.
In our bonus tie-break round, we'll be examining the Top Three for August 17th 1968, and for August 17th 1978. The usual rules apply, except that we'll be voting for six songs rather than five. The decade with the largest number of points in this round will duly be crowned this year's winner.
Here goes, then. The best of Troubled Diva luck to both our decades...
#3, 1968: This Guy's In Love With You - Herb Alpert. (video)Given that this is such a uniquely sensitive and critical moment in the contest, I shall refrain from passing comment on these selections, for fear of leading the jury with my piercing aperÁus.
#3, 1978: Substitute - Clout. (video)
#2, 1968: Fire - The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. (video)
#2, 1978: You're The One That I Want - John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John. (video)
#1, 1968: Mony Mony - Tommy James and the Shondells. (video)
#1, 1978: Three Times A Lady - The Commodores. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all six songs.
(The suggestion that this is merely because I'm short on time and can't be arsed is, of course, quite groundless, and you should be ashamed of yourselves.)
For the very last time this year, then: over to you. Your votes have never been more vital.
Voting on the tie-break round will remain open for 48 hours.
The deadline is therefore midnight on Wednesday night.
Final tie-break results:
1968: Mony Mony - Tommy James and the Shondells. (141)
1968: Fire - The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. (132)
1968: This Guy's In Love With You - Herb Alpert. (125)
1978: You're The One That I Want - John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John. (106)
1978: Substitute - Clout. (105)
1978: Three Times A Lady - The Commodores. (84)
Monday, March 03, 2008
Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? - interval poll.
While we wait for the final votes to trickle in, I have a few questions for you concerning this year's selections.
1. Of the fifty songs featured, which one was your absolute favourite?
2. And which one was the biggest pile of stinking doo-doo?
3. Are there any good songs which you've discovered (or re-discovered) as a result of this year's contest?
4. And finally, a trivia question: how many of this year's acts have performed at the Eurovision Song Contest?
At the time of writing, the final positions are still in a state of flux, with a lot of very closely fought battles still taking place throughout. At one point during the weekend, the 2000s came within two points of second place - and if nothing changes between now and tonight's midnight voting deadline, then we'll be going to tie-break. Could this BE more exciting?