Saturday, 17 December 2011

2011 - Closing Thoughts and A Little Reading For The Holidays


As 2011 draws nearer to its end, the music writing world and list compilers appear to be divided about whether or not it was a good year for music. You'll all have your own opinions about that I'm sure. I'm not going to bore you with another list but I thought there were some cracking albums this year. In terms of new releases The Amazing's Gentle Stream was a revelation, Meg Baird's Seasons On Earth will no doubt grace my stereo for years to come, but my favourite album of the year is People Changes by Nat Baldwin. An incredible blend of emotionally charged songs, free jazz, and unique and intimate arrangements. It stood out above most everything else I've heard. And there were some amazing re-releases and compilations along the way too, for example the collection of 60's/70's Thai pop from the Soundway Record label, (though that may have come out in 2010 I only got round to it this year.)

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One the downside you could say that 2011 was a bad year for music; Amy Winehouse died, The White Stripes split, and there was no unifying new youth movement or crossover artists of note. For retro kicks however there were the Top Of The Pops 1976 re-runs on BBC Four. Perfect for that increasingly vital Proustian Rush. Whether you prefer looking forward or backwards, pop's big wheel keeps on turning. Long may it roll.

One thing I've noticed over the years, and this year particularly, is I never get enough time for reading. Though I have managed to read several notable and enjoyable books this year including Nick Kent's 70's memoir Apathy For The Devil.


I also finally managed to get round to Nick Tosches' awesome biography of Jerry Lee Lewis, Hellfire. It was well worth the wait, and has made the Killer's records sound even more vibrant and alive than they did before. No mean feat!


I do have a little time off work over Christmas and a pile of books next to the bed so my plan is to get stuck into those over the next couple of weeks. Among them is Pop Process by Richard Mabey.

 
I've had this a couple of months and have dipped into it a little. It's a scholarly dissection of 60's pop/rock and how youth movements appear and grow, and how they are assimilated and swallowed up into the corporate machine. Fascinating and perhaps a little cynical in places it will then sit nicely on my bookshelf next to Nik Cohn's Awopbobaloobob Alopbamboom. Both books covering the same era and some similar ground. Though Cohn's book is more schoolboy enthusiastiasm compared to Mabey's cynical school master. They can fight it out among themselves on the shelf.

Richard Mabey went on to become a very well regarded author of books on nature, none of which I've read. One day I hope to.

Another book I plan to read is Tony Palmer's All You Need Is Love (The Story Of Popular Music), as shown in the main picture accompanying this article. I just came across this book in my local Oxfam this week. It's the book that accompanies the series Palmer made for TV back in the mid 70's. I've never seen the original series though it has made its way onto DVD now. (If Santa's reading this, I have been a very good boy this year!) The show contains rare footage of the formidable Lester Bangs, opinionated, funny and bang on the money. RIP Lester.



A quick glance through the book and I'm sure I'm in for a treat. Here's what Palmer has to say about the early days of Music Hall -

" "Music Hall" as a term means what it says - a hall, originally a drinking room or pub or tavern, in which music is heard. The music competes against drinking. From this atmosphere came numerous offspring called variously, burlesque, vaudeville, and variety"

Tonight I'm going to watch my friends' pub covers band in a village pub. They'll be playing the hits of the day. As ever the music will be competing against the drinking. Plus ca change!

The book also contains some full page reproductions of early adverts for blues and ragtime sheet music. Here's one for you -

Like those TOTP re-runs the book came out in 1976 so pre-dates punk. The final photograph in the book is a black and white shot of Mike Oldfield with some doves. The caption reads "Mike Oldfield - with doves. Our best hope?" Just let that thought linger for a while.... 2011 feels a lot like 1976 to me. Hopefully I'll have more to say about these books after reading them. Until then, thanks for reading this far. I hope 2011 has been kind to you musically and otherwise. Happy Christmas and here's to hoping we all have a great 2012!

Peace on earth, all we need is love. x