Soundtracking with Mark Perkins
For the latest missive in the UTNS cannon, I thought I’d just log/blog what I’m listening to as I make my way round this fair city, share some of the highlights with you, and reflect upon the story (if indeed there is one) behind how I got to hear the music in the first place.
So, for a week I’ll keep some sort of record of my listening and the music I chance upon, and let you in on my thoughts as it all progresses.
I make a point of catching Freak Zone on 6 music, and also Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service Today I tuned in as Jarvis was about to play the latest instalment of the A-Z of Peel. I was astonished to hear the voices of our own Klive and Nigel Humberstone talking about their love of the great man, as ‘I’ stood for ‘In The Nursery’. They talked about how he’d helped them in their early days, despite them sending him a mis-pressed copy of their single, which he had to take off half way through. What a lovely surprise, and how touching to hear their affectionate reminiscences of the much missed Peely. For me, the closest thing I have now is Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone.
It’s not a million miles from some of the stuff John Peel would play, and it’s really the only radio show which consistently introduces me to new music which I make it my mission to seek out after I’ve heard the show. Just a quick browse through my hard drive (it used to be called a record collection once youngsters, but we all move on), throws up artist such as Nicolas Jaar, Nils Frahm, Sufjan Stevens, and Battles, all of whom I first heard on the Freak Zone, and all of whom I knew I’d have to hear more of. Tonight Julian Cope is in the studio, talking about his anthology of underground music, Copendium. Nowhere else does this sort of event enter my life and I cannot imagine life without it.
To kick things off, and to take myself into territories anew, I had the idea of listening to some music which I’ve never listened to before. Quite a challenge really, as being a bit of a music geek, and always on the verge of being obsessional about looking for new stuff, there can’t be many genres I’ve not delved into. Then it dawned on me. My friend Samira is a British Asian, and as such must know much more than anyone else I know about music from India and Pakistan. I’ve always meant to talk to her about music, so I asked her for a few recommendations. She was keen to oblige, and suggested AR Rahman, Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan, Punjabi MC and Bally Sagoo for starters. Quick as you can say fire up Spotify, out they spilled from the speakers, and we were off. Just when you think you have a handle on the world of recorded music another door opens and it expands to fill any gaps.
Here’s someone’s brave attempt at an AH Rahman Top 20.
There’s so much to discover with these four artists alone that I can see a few late nights ahead. To me, Spotify has fundamentally changed the way I consume and interact with music. Yes the ipod, yes CDs replaced vinyl, but nothing opened up the floodgates like Spotify. Before that there was (and perhaps still is) Pandora, which gave us a taste of things to come, but I’ll save Pandora for another day.
I sometimes feel like I’m in Douglas Adam’s Hitch-Hikers Guide, where people were sent mad when they were connected to a computer which showed them their insignificant place in the infinite universe. It’s the classic case of being in the sweet shop with far too much to choose from, and finding it impossible to be happy with any one choice. I have to restrain myself from constantly listening to new music, as I know I should really be more selective, but it’s never easy.
Monday and Tuesday I work all day, so music is really restricted to the iPod as I walk there and back. Still, it gives me around two hours of tunes. There’s nothing I like more than the random shuffle on the ipod. (OK, the mathematician in me knows it’s not random at all, as the same track never comes up until all the others have been played, but I digress). First up is Neal Casal. I’ve loved him since came across him on a Christmas compilation about 10 years ago. Since then I’ve seen him solo, and as part of Ryan Adam’s band, the Cardinals.
There’s no proper video here, but it’s one of his best:
The song is from his ‘greatest hits’ compilation, and I’ve obsessed about him for some years, infact somewhat like the next iPod choice, David Mead. If anyone was cruelly over-looked by the public it must be the talented Mr Mead. There was a time when he’d appear on Jonathan Ross’s radio show whenever he came over from the USA, but his last album was a pledge-financed project, with fans paying for exclusive access and pre-releases goodies to raise the money to record it. That seems to be a more workable model these days than expecting a record company to foot the bill, with the expectation of recouping their investment through album or even download sales.
Anyway, here’s David Mead’s almost hit from the heady days when he actually had a recording contract:
One more from the iPod today is from Sufjan Stevens. I find myself on a bit of a lonely path with Sufjan. I know he has fans out there, but I never seem to meet them, apart from at the Manchester Apollo last year, where we all met to worship the genius that he is. I won’t waste time trying to convert anyone. Just take it from me, he’s worth more than a quick listen. Immerse yourself. This track is achingly sad, beautiful and somehow happy all at once.
Wednesday is my day off work and I’m taking the time to write this blog up, accompanied today by some Radio4 Extra comedy shows. The only one with any notable musical content is the Shuttleworths. Graham Fellows is, in my world a peerless song-writer. The clever lyrics and catchy tunes have been part of my family’s life since the children were small. I was fortunate enough to meet him once (as Graham), and he wasn’t the least bit surprised to hear about my ‘mix-tape’ that we used to have in the car, and the fact that long journeys were accompanied by a chorus of the Bounty song, or the Man Who Lived on the M62. Here’s an extract from his only ever TV series ‘500 Bus Stops’:
The irony is that he plays a frustrated song writer, when the songs he writes should be appreciated much more widely than they are. It’s no surprise to me that the songs of John Shuttleworth were recently covered in a sell-out charity show in London.
Thursday found me browsing on Eccy Road in the charity shop vinyl boxes. Not much to get excited about though. I reckon someone has a knowledgeable trawl through the donated stuff these days before it reaches the shops as there hardly ever seems to be anything of real interest anymore. I did hear something on the in-shop radio though, and couldn’t place it. I did what any self-respecting music fan does these days, and as soon as I got in, typed the lyrics I could remember into Google. Spencer Davis Group, I’m a Man. Add it to my Spotify playlist.
Friday afternoon and I’m fortunate to be able to finish work at lunchtime. Call in at the library, to return two Beatles CDs. I’ve been told they’re a good up and coming beat combo, and I reckon they’ll be quite big one day, you mark my words.
Now; we’ve all done it. You spot a book in the charity shop that was on sale for £20 last year and it’s now £1.50. Bargain. So it was with ‘1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die’, a drop-it-on-your-toes-and-they’re-broken, hefty sized tome. It’s regularly reprinted each year, with 25 albums added and deleted to keep the total at 1001. It’s even got its own Wikipedia page now
In the pre-internet days, owning such a book was just a dreamy way of spending Christmas Day morning, but now it’s become my mission statement. My plan is to put off the impending, and frankly quite stark reminder of impending doom in the title, by working from #1 to #1001, in order, at the strict rate of one a week (no cheating), thereby having a cast-iron method, guaranteed by the publisher, of living for another 20 years. This week I’m still at page 23, where the hot-house fifties was on the cusp of becoming the explosive sixties, the albums being chronologically listed, and it’s the turn of not only an album, but an artist I’ve never heard of. If I was cheating, I might skip forward to the Beatles or Dylan to make writing this easy, but no, we must stick to the rules. She’s Miriam Makeba, who eponymous debut in 1960 is a compelling portrait of a South African artist in exile in the USA. She went on to become the premier diva for the whole continent of Africa, and here the South African émigré seems to channel her yearning for her homeland with the help of her producer, Harry Belafonte. Moving stuff indeed, and well worth a listen.
Saturday brings me to the end of the musical week and it’s a day off from listening chores. For the musical accompaniment to the day I choose my very own personal Spotify playlist, set to play on random, which is now up to over 2700 tracks. That way, old friends nestle up to new discoveries, and often create lovely sequences where genres collide and nostalgia is mixed with fresh clear air. I’ll leave you with the last ten tracks it played for my. All of them chosen by me, but with Spotify choosing the sequence. Try finding a radio show that would play this.
I Need a Doctor (Dr Dre):
Matilda (Alt J)
Churaliya Hai Tumne (Bally Sagoo)
Dean and I (10CC):
Anarchy in the UK played live (Sex Pistols):
Blue Monday (Fats Domino):
Yosemite Theme (Go! Team):
Once and For All (Clock Opera):
What Can I Say (Boz Scaggs) and
Xtal (The Aphex Twin)
End of story. Except of course it isn’t. It all starts again tomorrow.