Category Archives: music

My Second Favourite World Cup Song

I recently interviewed 4AD’s design icon Vaughan Oliver for the wonderful magazine Long Live Vinyl ( and perhaps the conjunction of that with current events made me think of this: my second favourite World Cup-related single. The Young brothers (who are both sadly no longer with us) apparently presented it to both ITV and BBC to soundtrack their coverage of the 1986 tournament and, daftly, both turned them down.

Wish I’d now got around to asking him about the sleeve, surely the only one ever to feature Jimmy Hill….

‘Death Is A Girl’ – Mini Mansions

I’m a believer in the theory that great records will always always find their place in the sun, eventually. All it takes is for them to hit you at that vital moment, on the precise day when you are most ripe for them and then they all make sense.

How did I miss this when it was released two years ago? Maybe I was put off by Mini Mansions’ name (I’ve an aversion to any group who literally belittle themselves – Little Mix, Little Flames etc) or their Queens Of The Stone Age connections? In all probability, I was simply looking away, didn’t hear it when it was played on 6Music that one time. Anyway, I chanced across it online during a stint of researching new bands last week and on a cold early November morning when the world is teetering on the edge, peering into the precipice of a Trump presidency its queasy tone, shifting chord changes and White Album-esque air of dimly-lit foreboding sounded deliciously apposite.

And ooh it’s so very very catchy. Hell, I’ve even had to ration myself listening to it these past few days.  Every play reveals new wonders – the heavenly choirs in the second verse, the sharp handbrake turn out of the first chorus, the way the song builds slowly, moving through its gears with grace and perfect poise. It’s a masterclass in how to arrange a pop song using all the old 20th Century tricks and yet it still sounds utterly contemporary.

So apologies Mini Mansions for missing this in 2014. Death Is A Girl was utter pop-noir brilliance on toast back then, but it’s even better now.

Britain At The Edge: A Plea From The Heart

The tension has now become almost unbearable.

I can’t quite believe that this is all coming to pass. Historians will look back at this moment and scratch their heads. What possessed England to press the self destruct button in this way? For that is what Brexit amounts to. Quite apart from the fact that in simple economic terms it is clearly barmy. There is also the fact that the Brexiteers are almost certainly signing the death warrant for their own country – the UK. For if Scotland votes Remain a second independence referendum up north is a nailed-on certainty. Scotland will go, no doubt about it. Wales too, in time. And then what will be left? Little England. But then I suppose that is what these Little Englanders want. Perfect isolation, safely tucked away from scary foreign accents.

I don’t want that for my country. I want an outward facing, inclusive nation that is at ease with itself, that is unafraid of the world, of the future, that doesn’t want to hide underneath the bedclothes and pretend that it’s still 1952.

I don’t want the country to be controlled by a bunch of ‘even-more right wing than the present lot’  toffs who are quite cynically using ordinary people’s anxieties against them*, who have blatantly and deliberately stirred up a mean-spirited xenophobia that has already led to an MP being murdered. Ultimately these people want Britain to be an enlarged version of Guernsey, a tax haven where the rich lord it over the poor, without any of the restrictions the EU provides on working hours, workers’ rights and environmental legislation.

So I look at the polls and I shudder at what lies in store on the other side of June 23. I think about the little ways it will affect life on this island. I think of the way my stepson’s opportunities will be curtailed – he may want to study another language and work in another EU country. I also think of the social group that myself and my partner have been a part of for a year or two.

This is a friendly bunch of people based around Brockley. We meet up occasionally for pub quizzes, meals and various social events. One of the wonderful things about it is its cosmopolitan nature. There is a Spanish woman, an Aussie, a Canadian and her Rumanian partner, an Irish guy and his Japanese girlfriend. Its international make up means that as well as a lot of fun, it’s a richer experience for all of us. What makes me sad is that in 20 years time a group like ours might be a relic of the past, as England pulls up the drawbridge and withdraws.

But what do you do? When an individual is so fixated on self destruction, be it through drugs, alcohol or internalised violence it is very hard to dissuade them. Like a toddler, sometimes they just have to smash up their toys to realise that it is not the best course of action. Perhaps England needs to get this tantrum out of its system before it can finally grow up, realise that it’s not special and that it isn’t 1952 any more.

And that no man, or country, is ever truly an island. I implore anyone reading this to vote against xenophobia, against racism, and for hope and for Remain.

* During the last week or so this song – from an equally dark moment in British history, summer 1981 – has been replaying in my head over and over. “And as I was standing by the edge/ I could see the faces of those who led pissing themselves laughing.”

When Someone Great Has Gone..

It’s been two days now.

I first heard at 8am on Monday morning. My girlfriend phoned me from her car and just blurted it out – ‘Bowie’s dead!’ Like most people I was shocked – ‘but he only released a new album on Friday!’ was my instant reaction.  I thought that he had a few years left in him, maybe a couple more records, who knows? The rest of the day was spent feeling numb, fumbling through, accomplishing my tasks as best I could with this news at the forefront of my mind.

It’s not a tragedy. He was 69, for God’s sake! He had cancer. Many of my friends, many of your friends will die of cancer before that age and won’t have achieved a fraction of the things or lived the life that Bowie did. I never met him. I only saw him play live once, at Glastonbury in 2000.  So why did I feel (like so many others on Monday) on the verge of tears all day? Why do I feel a sense of profound loss?

It’s not just the music. Nor what he represented or inspired in me. I think part of the collective grief over his passing is the fact that it reminds us how an entire era, a way of life is gradually slipping away from us.  Bowie was one of the handful of artists that changed popular culture forever. He is a transformational figure in the same way that Elvis and The Beatles were. And there aren’t too many of them left. Dylan will be afforded the same reverence when he goes, McCartney, Jagger and Richards too. But they’re all elderly. Madonna is (arguably) the last to have changed music as profoundly and even she is 57. At some point soon in the next few decades all these icons will have departed this life.

Rock n’ roll is perhaps at the same stage today as cinema was in the 1970s. From my childhood I remember many of the stars of the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood appear in their dotage on Parkinson. They sat down, told their stories and then one by one their deaths were announced on the evening news. Films were still made, people still went to the cinema, but the romance that had cohered around the medium went with them. Music increasingly feels the same way. Over the last couple of days I’ve heard a few people ask forlornly ‘where are the Bowies of today?’  But there will never be another figure that has the impact of a Bowie, a Dylan or a Madonna. They shaped the terrain, opened up the space that today’s artists perform, that all of us live in. It’s highly unlikely that any of today’s Division One stars will be venerated the same way when it’s their turn to go. The difference between (to pick a name at random) Ed Sheeran and Bowie is akin to that between Ray Mears and Magellan. Quite simply, you can’t circumnavigate the globe for the first time twice.

The heroic age of popular music is almost over and soon all we will have left are stories and battered old CDs to pass on to our children. That’s why I’m sad.

Cuckoo Lander – Mother Nature

I’ll ‘fess up, I’ve found it a struggle coming up with ten tracks I’ve liked this year. 2015 hasn’t  exactly been blessed with a great abundance of new ideas and vital fresh faces. There has been little that’s touched my soul or even piqued my interest.

Occasionally though you’ll glimpse a flicker in the embers. Take this young lady – Cuckoo Lander. Is that her real name? Look at her hair – just brilliant! She comes across as different. And interesting. I’m intrigued. There’s not a great deal of information out there about her, though apparently she’s a mate of Charli XCX. Crucially though, in terms of her style and presentation this single of hers lies firmly outside the tighty-constricted boundaries of 2015 pop. I want to hear more. Hopefully in 2016, we will.

Great Lost Summer Hit 3

ROONEY – ‘When Did Your Heart Go Missing’

So it’s the last week of August. In the UK we’ve had our warmest brightest summer since 2003, we’ve retained the Ashes, a British man has won Wimbledon for the first time since God knows when. But I can’t be the only one for whom this week brings a tinge of regret, a feeling of what might have been if only…

Time to reach for this record.

Rooney were (perhaps still are?) five pretty Californian boys with good hair who caused a brief flurry of interest around 2003 with their Strokes-meets-the Beach Boys debut album. Then there was nothing until this single from their second effort Calling The World, released this week in 2007. With its itchy guitar figure, gormless rhyming of ‘princess’ with ‘justa one big mess’, and that he-cannot-be-serious spoken word outro it’s a micrometre from toppling over into outright cheese. But it doesn’t. Because there’s something heartfelt and real at the centre of this song, a romance that had so much potential but yet somehow conspired to fall apart despite the singer’s best efforts. Sigh. We’ve all had one of those, haven’t we?

It’s been seen with this video, which made me laugh out loud when I first saw in a bar on  holiday in Barcelona six years ago this month.

Needless to say, it wasn’t a hit. But I always play it around this time the year, because it just reeks of the last week of August, a time to look back with fondness and regret, when you appreciate every day of good weather, so desperate are you to eek every last drop out of the summer. Because all that lies ahead is darkness, loneliness, bitterness and gloom.

Happy winter.

PS: I wonder if  any Man U-loving promoter has ever tried to get Rooney, Keane and the hard rapper Giggs on the same bill?

Great Lost Summer Hit 2

POCKET SIZE – ‘Walking’

This single landed on my desk at the Big Issue sometime during early June 1999. I left it unplayed for several weeks before digging it out one idle afternoon the following month. And guess what? It sounded just perfect for that specific time on that specific day, a lazy dog day afternoon during the last week of July.

Pocket Size were vocalist Liz Owers and multi instrumentalist Darren Pearson. They were one of those groups you don’t really get these days – signed by a major without having built up any sort of following or profile in the hope that, well, something would happen. Walking was released and nothing happened. It’s a fine tune, kinda country-ish, languid but playful and cool; a record that doesn’t draw attention to itself. Unfortunately in a summer when the charts were dominated by post-Spice Girls kiddy pop, latin-influenced dance music and pop trance its coy charms didn’t stand a chance. I’m not even sure if the accompanying album 100% Human was even ever released. If it was, we certainly didn’t get a copy of it.




Great Lost Summer Hit 1

So…last year I wrote a post bemoaning the disspearance of the British summer. As you can have expected I have been pinching myself during this last week or so. It’s utterly flabbergasting. We have not had an extended period of hot dry weather like this in the UK since 2003 and I am revelling in it, lapping it up, knowing that it could well be another ten years before we enjoy anything like this once again.

And it’s sent me back to records like this, the sort that only make sense in the sunshine. Le Kid are a Swedish five piece who have had some success in their home country and Germany, but haven’t as yet had the big push in the UK. Mercy Mercy was first released back in 2009 and then again the following year, both times kinda halfheartedly, with zero promotion and no airplay that I can recall. I’m stumped as to why this hasn’t already been a massive summer hit. Listen to it three times and you’ll never be able to shake the chorus from your head. It’s that good.

And yes it does sound a bit like Girls Aloud’s ‘Can’t Speak French’. But it’s better, miles better.



On ‘Get Lucky’

I DJed at the Plough in Bristol last week and the last record of my set was the one new-ish single that I had bought especially for the occasion – Daft Punk’s recent Number One. Cue pandaemonium – people dancing on stage, mouthing the lyrics and playing air guitar. I kind of half expected that reaction, but it was still pleasant all the same. In my experience it’s very very very very rare to find a ‘new’ record that causes those kind of scenes, but as DJs all over the world have found out in the last couple of months Get Lucky is something close to a universal panacea. It’s on course to become the biggest selling single of the year, quite probably this decade. And it deserves every accolade that comes its way. It’s my favourite single of the last 5 years.

How exceptional? Well, I think the last time a new record was in the terminology that I use, a ‘banker’ (ie the sort of record you know will fill the dancefloor not matter the occasion, whatever the crowd) was Madonna’s Hung Up. And that was, what…2005? Before that? Probably Crazy In Love and Hey Ya! And they were both released in 2003.

Nothing much released in the last ten years has had anything like that kind of power. Lady Gaga? Don’t make me laugh. The only halfway useable track of hers is Born This Way and even that is tainted by the fact it aches to be a gay lib anthem so much that you just can’t love it. No funk, no groove, and it (and she generally) just tries way too hard.

Get Lucky though, like all truly great singles, sounds effortless, even though you just know that it was the product of a huge buckets of sweat by all concerned. It’s one of those rare examples of a collaboration between top line artists that truly is greater than the sum of its constituent parts. Pharrell supplies a typically cool feline vocal, Mssrs Bangalter and Homen-Christo add their trademark touches and then there is the sweet joy of hearing Nile Rodgers play guitar like that for the first time in years.

But all four know that they are there to service a great song, full of hope and self belief.  “We’ve come too far to give up who we are.” Who can’t apply those words to their lives? I know I have. Released in late April (the most hopeful time of the year in the northern hemisphere) it’s obviously stirred millions of hearts. When we listen it’s impossible not to feel that whatever your situation has been over the last few years, even in a world where we’re now five years into an economic downturn, a world where (for a while at least) pop was taken over by Auto Tuned-dullards, where we all stand on the brink of ecological catastrophe, there is still time left for all of us – personally and collectively – to seize triumph from the jaws of disaster if only we can hang in there long enough and somehow, somehow get lucky.

 I think it will be a long time before I get bored of it. 


Hollie Cook @ Bush Hall, London 17/4/12

Hollie is, of course, the daughter of Paul Cook, drummer and the quiet one from the Sex Pistols and looking at her tonight you get the impression she’s inherited quite a bit from her old man. She’s demure, obviously a bit shy in putting herself forward. Which is fine if you’re a drummer, but not so good when you’re supposed to be fronting your own show.

In fact, most of the stage announcements tonight emanate from Hollie’s drummer. This is a launch party for the Prince Fatty dub version of her eponymous debut album that came out last year. Musically it’s agreeable fare – savoury slightly wistful lovers rock embellished with the occasional dub flourish. We get most of that debut plus a cool cover of The Whispers’ And The Beat Goes On. Nice to shuffle around to, but there’s nothing gripping enough to raise it above the level of background music. Hollie seems uncomfortable in the spotlight and lacking a really strong voice or the sort of presence that demands our attention, fades into the background herself all too easily. Oh well.