Edward Colston Statue in Bristol

Northern_end_of_The_Centre,_Bristol,_March_2018

During today’s ongoing worldwide anti-racist demonstrations, a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was toppled and unceremoniously dumped in the harbour. You can see the BBC News report of the demonstrations here.

For now though, let’s park our thoughts about the rights and wrongs of tearing down a statue, and simply seek to empathise with how black people would have felt walking past Edward Colston every day. In this highly-charged atmosphere, with the added tensions of coronavirus, we need to keep our focus on the deep issues of racism and white privilege. Let’s discuss these issues respectfully and communicate with grace.

Knowing the history of Bristol, I personally feel that the statue should have been taken down officially and (possibly) placed in a museum long ago. Such an official act could have acknowledged the hurt of the past and brought people together. It could have been a profound moment of repentance, redemption, reconciliation and renewal. Sadly, that moment has been lost.

In these difficult and challenging times we need visionary leaders in all countries and at all levels, unfortunately they currently they seem to be few and far between.

Note: I attended a Yes concert in Colston Hall in the 1970s. They played Tales from Topographic Oceans in full before the album was released in 1973.

A Calming Influence (Gaz Rose)

97112061_2892923017492902_7332182766877933568_o

The other day I posted on Facebook: OK friends, I need album suggestions of seriously calming music while I work this evening. Wrong answers also welcome. Go! I received some great suggestions, and I’m working my way through them.

Gaz Rose replied (with a smile), “Would it be wrong of me to suggest my new one? His brass neck cheek was just the nudge I needed to buy and download it, it lived up to the promise and I can thoroughly recommend it. Find it in the usual download places.

There’s no real official blurb, it’s simply an album for personal or corporate reflection, using Christian songs as a basis for the relaxed feel music. There’s something for everyone, including a track for the Christmas market – which I skipped by the way. The album finishes with an arrangement of Ascalon, his favourite hymn tune.

Gaz hasn’t paid me to promote this, but he owes me a coffee!

Remembering Ian Curtis

joy-division-28-01-2009-02-05-2008-6-g

Forty years ago (18 May 1980) Joy Division lyricist and singer Ian Curtis took his own life, a tortured star whose influence both at the time and since has been immense. Actor Sam Riley brilliantly portrays Curtis in Control, Anton Corbijn‘s 2007 film of the Joy Division singer’s life and suicide.

Although there have been those who have sought to glamorise his death as a rock and roll suicide, in reality it was a consequence of his lack of control over many aspects of his personal life. The debilitating effects of epilepsy, the deception of having an affair, the almost inevitable breakdown of his marriage, and the prospect of separation from his year-old baby daughter. As he sang, “All the failures of the modern man”.

The classic and influential album Unknown Pleasures (released in 1979) revealed a profoundly dark poet and a starkly grim realist, a very different voice in music at the time, one who added deep insight and intelligence to the post-punk movement.

The clues were there though. In the track Shadowplay, Ian Curtis sings, “In the shadowplay, acting out your own death, knowing no more…” and in New Dawn Fades, there’s one in the very title as well as the words, “The strain is too much, can’t take much more”.

36539360_1597375767038708_8825086018551021568_n

Once the truly shocking news broke that Ian Curtis had taken his own life, there came the full realisation that his writhing and twisted dancing on stage wasn’t simply performance art, he was genuinely wrestling with his emotional and physical demons, as well as reflecting how hopeless, meaningless and inhuman he felt our world had become.

Tragic as any death is, we’re often drawn to those in public life who take their own lives, and there are many examples. Listening to the album Closer (released soon after his death) was uncanny and slightly unnerving, a feeling that persists even now.

joy_division_closer_png

So this is permanence, love’s shattered pride
What once was innocence turned on it’s side
A cloud hangs over me, marks every move
Deep in the memory of what once was love

Oh, how I realized I wanted time
Put into perspective, tried so hard to find
Just for one moment I thought I’d got my way
Destiny unfolded, watched it slip away

Excessive flash points beyond all reach
Solitary demands for all I’d like to keep
Let’s take a ride out, see what we can find
Valueless collection of hopes and past desires

I never realized the lengths I’d have to go
All the darkest corners of a sense I didn’t know
Just for one moment, hearing someone call
Looked beyond the day in hand, there’s nothing there at all

Now that I’ve realized how it’s all gone wrong
Got to find some therapy, treatment takes too long
Deep in the heart of where sympathy held sway
Got to find my destiny before it gets too late

Twenty Four Hours (from Closer)

I remember a survey from a few years back revealing that more people take their own lives in May than in any other month. Apparently, “the juxtaposition between a literally blooming world and the barren inner life of the clinically depressed is often too much for them to bear”.

We remember Ian Curtis because of his musical influence and legacy, but there’s also many thousands of young men who take their own lives each year, and I particularly remember one whose funeral I conducted a few years ago. A reminder to do all we can to reduce the stigma of mental illness in society, and to support those who are suffering. On this tragic anniversary, a fitting way to remember Ian Curtis.

See also: Transmission (Joy Division)

Station to Station (Kraftwerk)

Trans-Europe Express

The title of this post was inspired by a lyric from the title track of arguably Kraftwerk‘s greatest album Trans-Europe Express released in March 1977: From station to station, back to Dusseldorf City, Meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie, Trans-Europe Express, Trans-Europe Express.

Kraftwerk are (or were, I’m not sure) a hugely influential German band formed in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider. Widely considered as innovators and pioneers of electronic music, their music has influenced a diverse range of artists and genres of modern music, including David Bowie (mentioned in the lyric above). Indeed, one of Bowie’s albums is titled Station to Station, although he’s said that the title refers not so much to railway stations as to the Stations of the Cross, despite the sound of a train.

The reason for writing this post is that the death of Florian Schneider was announced today. Sadly, we’re living at a time when many of my musical heroes are being taken from us, but I enjoyed listening to this album while walking the dog this evening, albeit with sorrow in my heart.

Note: My personal favourite Kraftwerk album is Autobahn, with a magnificent title track of nearly 23 minutes.

A Year of Us (Naomi Ager)

2020-04-22_143725

Naomi and I have been considering the adverse effect the coronavirus pandemic lockdown can have on couples, especially those (like us) with young children. I posted something to this effect on Facebook today, not because we had fallen out, but because we both recognise that couples need to work harder on their relationships in times of crisis. This is her guest post. Thank you Naomi, I love you.

I saw this book on Amazon and, given the stress we find ourselves under as a family, but more so as a couple in these days of lockdown, I thought engagement in a couple’s journal together might work in some way to deepen our connection and allow us to explore each other and not lose sight of ‘us’.

There’s always something else you can learn about the person you love whether you’ve been together for a week or 60 years. By sitting together each evening to explore the 365 interesting questions laid out in this book, I feel it will give us a beautiful insight into our hopes and dreams, as well as our most desperate needs that perhaps are going by the wayside right now.

I’m personally finding it difficult to do something as simple as engaging in meaningful conversation when the children have gone to bed. But, having explored this book prior to us starting it together, I think it will give us the opportunity to bring up issues whether deep and heartfelt or more whimsical in nature.

In this period of lockdown, it’s more important than ever to maintain healthy discussions as a couple and to ensure important things are openly talked about. Things such as family finance and sex life (for example) and hopes for now and the future when we are eventually released back into the big wide world again.

It’s also important to talk about our hobbies and interests with each other, and in turn to encourage the person we share our lives with and love with the things that interest them. I want to take even more of an interest and have a better understanding of what interests John. So maybe I’ll read up on stars, planets, space and the universe or listen to one of his weird and wonderful music albums.

Making time to talk about our interests outside of homeschooling the children and general survival at this time, in my opinion, can only solidify the foundation of our relationship and improve life massively, especially whilst living under such pressure.

I plan to share a lot of the daily questions with my friends on Facebook, so they too can sit with their other half, turn off the television, put pen to paper and learn a little more about each other.

Radiohead Public Library

2020-04-04_230027

Earlier this year Radiohead launched their own public library comprising an online archive of the band’s vast material.

You can create your own library card and membership number giving access to a curated and organised archive of the band’s back catalogue and a selection of artefacts associated with each album. You can also stream a number of previously unavailable rarities for the first time.

This comes after the band added their entire discography to YouTube, from their debut album Pablo Honey through to A Moon Shaped Pool.

What are you waiting for? Now is the perfect time to go exploring…

Sunday (David Bowie)

Nothing remains
We could run
when the rain slows
Look for the cars or signs of life
Where the heat goes
Look for the drifters
We should crawl under the bracken
Look for the shafts of light on the road
Where the heat goes

Everything has changed
For in truth, it’s the beginning of nothing
And nothing has changed
Everything has changed
For in truth, it’s the beginning of an end
And nothing has changed
And everything has changed

[first voice]
In your fear
Of what we have become
Take to the fire
Now we must burn
All that we are
Rise together
Through these clouds
As on wings

[2nd voice]
In your fear, seek only peace
In you fear, seek only love
In your fear, seek only peace
In you fear, seek only love
In your fear, in your fear

As on wings
This is the trip
And this is the business we take
This is our number
All my trials, Lord
Will be remembered
Everything has changed

This is the opening track of the Heathen album.

When I Was Cruel (Elvis Costello)

One of my favourite albums of the 2000s decade (2002 to be specific) is When I Was Cruel by Elvis Costello. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, it doesn’t appear to be available for streaming on Spotify, although I have it on CD.

The video is the title track on Later with Jools Holland in 2002. This album might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but here is a singer-songwriter at the top of his game, an album that repays careful and repeated listens.

The 2000s – Album of the Decade

R-1174296-1363434073-2265.jpeg

Having recently posted my album of the 2010s decade I’ve gone back retrospectively and compiled my favourite album(s) of each year of the 2000s in order to choose my album of that decade.

You might be surprised by one (if not more) of the choices, but I have written about my musical eclecticism here. I’m not one to shy away from a particular group or musician simply because some might consider that choice as ‘uncool’ to like.

Listed below are over 30 of my favourite albums, and you’ll see that 2001 was a good year with 9 favourites altogether. Choosing my album of the 2010s decade was easy, the album effectively chose itself, but this decade is not so easy.

The Radiohead albums are particular favourites, especially Kid A and Amnesiac, but I’ve actually chosen In Rainbows. It was self-released as a pay-what-you-want download. This was a first for a major act and it made headlines around the world and sparked debate about implications for the music industry. So In Rainbows has significance over and above the music itself.

2000 Radiohead: Kid A
2000 PJ Harvey: Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
2001 Anne Sofie von Otter & Elvis Costello: For the Stars
2001 Barry Manilow: Here at the Mayflower
2001 Björk: Vespertine
2001 Diana Krall: The Look of Love
2001 Gary Moore: Back to the Blues
2001 Mary J. Blige: No More Drama
2001 New Order: Get Ready
2001 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: No More Shall We Part
2001 Radiohead: Amnesiac
2002 Coldplay: A Rush of Blood to the Head
2002 David Bowie: Heathen
2002 Elvis Costello: When I Was Cruel (see also here)
2002 Sigur Rós: ( )
2003 David Bowie: Reality
2003 Elvis Costello: North
2003 Joss Stone: The Soul Sessions
2003 Radiohead: Hail to the Thief
2004 David Byrne: Grown Backwards
2004 Diana Krall: The Girl in the Other Room
2004 Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand
2004 Morrissey: You Are the Quarry
2005 Martha Wainwright: Martha Wainwright
2005 Sigur Rós: Takk…
2006 Amy Winehouse: Back to Black
2006 David Gilmour: On an Island
2006 Thom Yorke: The Eraser
2007 Radiohead: In Rainbows
2007 Robert PlantAlison Krauss: Raising Sand
2008 David Gilmour: Live in Gdańsk
2008 Metallica: Death Magnetic
2008 Portishead: Third
2008 The Fall: Imperial Wax Solvent
2009 Placebo: Battle for the Sun
2009 U2: No Line on the Horizon

This is the official video of the track House of Cards.

The 2010s – Album of the Decade

bowie-blackstar-vice

Once I’d chosen my top albums of the individual years of the decade (15 albums in total with joint-favourites) the album of the decade just shouted out at me!

Blackstar (stylised as ★) by David Bowie was released on 8 January 2016 (Bowie’s 69th birthday). Two days later, he died of liver cancer; his illness had not been revealed to the public until then. Co-producer Tony Visconti described the album as Bowie’s intended swan song and a “parting gift” for his fans before his death. Staying true to himself, he again produced something new and unique.

The album is remarkable in that David Bowie turns his own death into a work of art. Without discussion or question, it’s my album of the decade.

2010 Gorillaz: Plastic Beach
2011 Björk: Biophilia
2011 Radiohead: The King of Limbs
2012 Sigur Rós: Valtari
2013 Black Sabbath: 13
2013 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Push the Sky Away
2014 Thom Yorke: Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
2015 Public Service Broadcasting: The Race for Space
2016 David Bowie: Blackstar
2016 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree
2016 Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool
2017 Brian Eno: Reflection
2018 Nils Frahm: All Melody
2019 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Ghosteen
2019 Thom Yorke: Anima

This is the remarkable video of the song Lazarus from Blackstar.