Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Why can't the English...win Eurovision?

A while ago a colleague of mine posed the question to me:

The UK has given us so many great bands and artists. So how come they hardly ever win Eurovision?

It's a fair question. This year marks the 57th year of Eurovision's existence and the UK have participated in all but two contests in that time. They have won 5 times, come last three times, and first runner up 15 times. Even Ireland has won it more often, with 7 wins to their credit.

I think there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, Eurovision has always had a culture of kitsch surrounding it. It has been more about bad fashion and cheesy pop songs designed to appeal to a mass audience. In the eyes of some critics, it tends to be regarded as kind of cultural freak-show; a train-wreck of a contest that showcases the best and worst of the music the EU member states have to offer. As such, the British musical aristocracy would consider appearing in Eurovision as a sellout.

It's also regarded in some circles as a "one-hit wonder". The only winning act to ever go on to massive international success was ABBA. Mind you, a number of other acts have made a small mark on the world since their wins, such as Bucks Fizz and Celine Dion. Some of Britain's winners have found that their entrants have had their careers take a nosedive after appearing in it. Consider this: what happened to Lulu after she performed in 1969? Others, like Cliff Richard survived, but the odds of lasting success after entering Eurovision are not in the artists favour.

Since the year 2000, Britain has been one of the "Big Four" Eurovision entrants. This means that, along with Germany, France and Spain (and now Italy, making it the "Big Five" in 2013), because they contribute the most money to the European Broadcasting Union, they now go into the finals without having to contend in other rounds, potentially getting knocked out. They're assured a place in the grand final automatically, so there's no contest for them and as such they can treat it with contempt. They can submit any entry they want and it goes in untried and untested.

The contest has become very political now, especially since the fall of the Soviet bloc. There are a lot of neighbouring countries that are less than friendly with each other, and as member states cannot vote for their own entry, they can deliberately vote against a neighbour. Plus, a lot of songs sung in language have been political statements, thus deterring some voters altogether. Smaller countries in the former Soviet bloc have found that they are struggling financially since the fall of Communism, and a win in Eurovision would be highly sought after. This would bring in much needed foreign investment and tourism, as the winner has the honour of staging the context the following year. England has no real need for such incentives, and as such appear to not put their best acts forward.

With the digital economy in full swing and the Internet making the world more connected, British bands get plenty of coverage all over the planet, and as such they have no real need to be put in front of a massive TV audience guaranteed with Eurovision. Recent UK entrants all appear to be former pop stars who still have some recognisable essence about them, and as such the British Eurovision delegation may think that swings the odds in their favour. Although, last year Engelbert Humperdinck didn't fare very well at all. This year they have cast Bonnie Tyler in the role of representing the UK: here's hoping they choose a better song for her than last years'cowpat of a song...

For a number of years now, Eurovision has been broadcast in Australia on SBS. This year it will broadcast the two semi finals and the grand final on the weekend of the 17-19th of May 2013, live from Maimo, Sweden. 

I'm not much of a fan of some of the music presented and I do think it is a bit daggy but, as far as train wrecks go, at least this one is very interesting.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Mixtape: For my puppy

About 10 months ago my wife and I decided (well, my wife mainly) to get another dog. We picked out this little girl and named her Ella (after the great Ella Fitzgerald). Last week she turned 7 (or one year old in human years) and in her honour I created a Spotify playlist filled with all the songs about dogs I could find.

To mark the occasion of her birthday, I'm going to share the playlist with you.

Take a listen and, most of all...


Sunday, 28 April 2013

Sunday Sessions: Jazz goes to Africa

This week with the Sunday Session I've decided to share some of the most sublime and beautiful music with you, and you also get to watch the players create it out of thin air.

The piece is "Ocean Wave" by West African Kora player Foday Musa Suso and jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette.

The Kora is a stringed instrument, kind of like a thumb piano, originating from Ghana. It can have anywhere up to (and in some cases beyond) 21 strings, all plucked with the thumbs. It is a beautifully resonant instrument that is capable of some gorgeous melodic and harmonic textures.

Jack DeJohnette is of course well known for playing on Miles Davis' legendary LPs "Bitches Brew", "Live-Evil", "A Tribute To Jack Johnson" and "On The Corner".

These two players start with a basic structure - a drum rhythm and a simple melodic figure - and then they improvise and bounce melodies and rhythms off each other. It is truly wondrous to watch musicians improvise in performance like this, inventing new music as they go. As a result, this piece is never played the same way twice. It is an unusual combination of instruments but it is joyous and exciting. You'll never hear anything like this again.


Wednesday, 24 April 2013

RIP Richie Havens

Image Source: Time Inc

While we're on the subject of "heritage" acts, the great Richie Havens passed away on Monday, aged 72.

I use the term "Heritage" because we should be remembering musicians who have made some valuable contribution to popular music in years gone by, and that we could be at risk of forgetting about. As it is, people of the Woodstock generation know who Richie was, but I'd suggest that very people of subsequent generations know of his work. Even in his passing, it's worth taking another look.

Richie was a folk singer who got his start in the same 60s folkie circuit as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, et al, in Greenwich Village, New York. He was an anomaly as he was 6 foot 6, African American, and attacked his acoustic guitar with a vigourous strumming technique that could make any modern-day metal guitarist embarrassed. His ability to energise an audience with nothing more than his deep, gutteral vocals and impassioned strumming was amazing (as can be seen in the clip below of him improvising a song that became known as "Freedom" live at Woodstock).

Richie was a songwriter, but found greater fame as an interpreter of songs, mainly by Bob Dylan and the Beatles. He had a great ear for a great song, irrespective of who wrote it. He is probably best known for his version of "Here Comes The Sun" which chugs along with a rhythmic fervour that is instantly danceable, despite the idea of it sounding implausable.

In recent years he hasn't had anywhere near the success he had in the 60s and 70s, but then he only ever had one top 20 hit back in the day anyway. He still continued to tour regardless until 2010 when it was announced he was quitting due to ill health.

Richie was a unique talent whose passion and enthusiasm for his music carried across into his performance, and that enthusiasm just explodes off his records. Take a listen to his performance of "Freedom" at Woodstock below, and then have a listen to his sublime (and slightly challenging at times) album "Alarm Clock" from 1971.

He will be sadly missed.

Leonard Cohen wins Juno Artist of the Year

image source: NME

Just this morning the NME reported that Leonard Cohen, aged 78, has been awarded the Canadian music industry's "Artist of the Year" award, beating out, among others, Justin Beiber.


The NME then cited the reactions from Beiber's fans who have no idea who Cohen is and they are pissed off that he beat their beloved Justin for the award. That should come as no surprise to anybody.

Sure, I could crap on about how the fans are naive and are too young to know better, or about how I think Cohen is a far more important performer and artist that Beiber will ever be. But let's face it: even the oldest amongst us were young once, and as such we've all been guilty of having a narrow frame of reference or narrow viewpoint on many issues, including music; by virtue of the fact that we haven't lived or experienced much of the world at that time.

It appears to me that many people just don't have time for what I consider to be "heritage" acts. People just don't seem to want to find the time and effort to expand their horizons. Sure, Leonard Cohen has been around since before Woodstock, but even so, the vitality of his work makes even a cursory analysis a worthwhile pursuit. His songs are profound and have great depth to them. Even if the delivery can be off-putting (his deadpan, monotone singing voice often unsettles and repels new listeners), his work in the hands of other interpreters can be amazing. In the hands of Jennifer Warne (on the "Famous Blue Raincoat" LP) and Joe Cocker, the songs are bursting with detail and with vitality.

Casting an eye over a wider range of music won't hurt anybody, and if nothing else it is a great cure for ignorance. I don't begrudge Beiber fans for not knowing who Leonard Cohen is, but their inability to accept that there other musicians in the world besides Beiber who are worthy of awards. Narrow-mindedness and shallowness are the real issues here, and I wish they could be destroyed.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

RIP Chrissie Amphlett of Divinyls

Image Source: Sydney Morning Herald

It is with heavy heart that I read the news of the departing of Chrissie Amphlett, lead singer and rock goddess of Divinyls, a band formed in Sydney, NSW in 1980.

She has been suffering from Multiple Sclerosis for a while, but it sounds as though the breast cancer that she was diagnosed with in 2010 killed her.

In most cases she may have had a squeaky high register voice, but she had one hell of a stage presence, and she could belt out a tune far more successfully than a lot of other female singers I could name. She was a little fiery bottle-rocket in a school-uniform. (I bet you've read that as "a female Angus Young", but please don't!)

While the press obituaries focus on the sexually aggressive nature of her stage persona, personally, I never saw her that way, that is, as any sort of "sex" symbol. I grew up in the 1980s, listening to everything on the radio and of course, Divinyls were a staple of that musical diet. At their peak in 1985-6 when the "What A Life" LP was released, I was 9. I didn't care how she looked, the music was great and she provided the lyrics that I would tunelessly sing along to.

Times were different then: Australian music was actually supported by record labels and played on the radio regularly, resulting in many great Aussie bands having major hits in the charts. Plus, they toured regularly so you could see them play often. I asked my mother to take me to see Divinyls at the Newcastle Workers Club around the time "Pleasure and Pain" was high in the charts. She declined - there's no way they'd let me - aged 9 - through the door!

I did lose interest in the band in the early 1990s. I didn't think much of "I Touch Myself" - I still don't. But most of their work on their first 4 albums is brilliant. Like anybody there are patches of mediocrity, but if you want an introduction to the Divinyls, then the albums "Music from the film Monkey Grip", "Desperate", "What A Life" and "Temperamental" are a good place to start.

Her larger than life stage persona just shows how much of a vacuum Australian music has become. There are very few, if any, female rock stars here that would take up the mantle as the next charismatic, idiosyncratic female pop star. Although we still have her great music, she will be missed.

Vale Chrissie.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Sunday Sessions: Slade - Radio (Wall of Sound)

For this week's Sunday Sessions, I wanted to share a great song about Radio that wasn't available on Spotify as of yet, but is worthy of hearing.

They may be a bit passe, but I'm a big fan of Slade. This particular track was one of two or three that the original band recorded in 1991 before lead singer Noddy Holder left to pursue other interests. He didn't feel like his heart was in the band anymore, as did a number of the other band members at the time, so they called it a day after almost 25 years together.

"Radio (Wall of Sound)" isn't one of the band's most loved or best remembered tracks, but it did make number 21 in Britain on its original release. It barely rated a ripple here, but it did appear on a rather high selling best of LP released for the Christmas market in 1991. It still features the great stomping sound of Slade of old, but it features a more subtle lead vocal from bassist Jim Lea. Noddy's huge vocal holler only appears in the pre-chorus chant and the chorus.

Still, it's a pretty good last hurrah for a band that deserves their spot in rock history, although not as highly respected as they should be.

Still, everybody get your boots on, and stomp along with Slade.


Saturday, 20 April 2013

Turn Up Your Radio

I've never been able to pinpoint why, but Radio as a broadcast medium has always intrigued me. There's something magical about creating entertainment purely through sound.

The problem I have is that, in my opinion, most local radio in this country is rubbish. Commercial radio is just awful - it doesn't matter where you go in the country, every commercial radio station falls into one or the other categories: inane Top 40 pop, classic rock or talkback. There's no inventiveness or creativity in any of it, and the amount of promotion intertwined with normal programming is annoying and downright offensive at times (try listening to a Triple M football commentary sometime if you don't believe me.)

Thankfully, there are plenty of great stations around the place that stream on the web that are still awesome: Triple J Unearthed, EastSide Radio, FBi Sydney, 4ZZZ-FM Brisbane, not to mention great overseas ones like KCRW in Santa Monica California, Indie 103.1, Radio Paradise, plus great things in Britain like BBC Radio 2 and BBC 6Music, XFM, Absolute Radio, Jack-FM Oxfordshire, and heaps more, and they're all available via Tune-in.com.

It's so easy to lament the great stuff that came before now, and how most DJs are annoying and vacuous. Breakfast radio just isn't as interesting, clever or funny anymore. Cheap stunts, celebrity trash and general outrage are the flavour of the month. And yet, there is still life in the medium, provided people are prepared to be inventive at the expense of ratings and advertising dollars.

Pretty soon, the analog radio spectrum will be switched off and all radio stations will be forced to go digital. This is a major problem for the hundreds of Community and public radio stations in the country, who are struggling to make their operating costs as it is, without having to find additional capital to upgrade their broadcast gear.

But as well, what is going to happen to the old analog spectrum? There's still millions of cars without digital radios in them, and every mobile device has an analog radio built into its firmware?

Radio has captured the minds of people for almost 100 years now, and there is a huge volume of music the has been written in tribute or that has been inspired by radio - much more than anything about newspapers or television.

Below is a playlist capturing as many as I could think of. It's not exhaustive; I'm sure there is more. Take a listen to the 99 tracks that are here and let me know if you can add any to the list!


Friday, 19 April 2013

The Workplace Relations playlist

Image source: The Age/Fairfax Media, Melbourne.

Hi all,

Sorry for the lack of posts lately as I've been busy and/or away for a few days.

Anyway, as we all know, the only female Prime Minister of England, Margaret Thatcher, died last week and was laid to rest on Wednesday. Her legacy has divided Britain right down the middle. However, the one thing that sticks out is the massive job losses and battles with Trade Unions during her reign as PM.

Granted the Unions were too strong - they were asking for unreasonable things, and then when they didn't get them, they took unreasonable action, crippling the country. Thatcher changed things, but not without causing many many people to lose their jobs.

This playlist is a list of songs that specifically relate to working and dealing with "the man". It is not exhaustive, and if you can think of anything to add, please let me know in the comments. It is also partly inspired by BBC Radio 2's program "The People's Songs", which specifically dealt with this issue in Britain in the 1970s.


Sunday, 14 April 2013

Sunday Sessions: Brad Sucks

Here we are on another Sunday, and what better to post on a day of rest than some laid back tunes from Brad Sucks.

First of all, Brad certainly does NOT suck. The name is self-deprecating, on purpose. Brad Turcotte is the man behind the moniker and the music he creates is home-brewed, home-recorded tunes with the kind of charm that comes with the thought of anything handcrafted by an individual away from a production line.

The music is not easily categorized - sometimes it is acoustic based rock. Sometimes it's low-fi electronica. Either way, it is sung with that low, mellow register that just screams "Relax".

The other cool thing about Brad is that all his albums are available free from his website in a form ready for electro or dance producers to remix it. How cool is that?

These two tracks are from Brad's first LP "I Don't Know What I'm Doing", released in 2004. It's highly recommended. The two tracks are "I Think I Started A Trend" and "Sick As A Dog".


Saturday, 13 April 2013

REM: The Early Years

It's hard to imagine that REM's first LP "Murmur" is 30 years old, because it still sounds as fresh as (I imagine) it sounded when it was released.

There are some people who would call themselves REM fans but who have heard very little of the band's early work. They usually know of the big hits like "Everybody Hurts" or "Losing My Religion", or maybe even "Orange Crush", but they happened after the band jumped ship from indie label IRS records to Warner Brothers in 1988.

The first five REM records are all brilliant and there's barely a weak spot on any of them (there's more on album #3: "Fables of the Reconstruction" than on the others). They show a band that is raw and bristling with youthful energy. You can't always make out what Michael Stipe is singing about, but that was always the case, even into their later period. The lyrics may be indecipherable, but the chiming electric guitars with acoustic shadows and driving rhythms still sound fresh, despite sounding similar to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Tom Petty was never this visceral or heartfelt, or even melodic - REM was always very tuneful.

The band sound very nervous on their first record "Murmur". The production is thin but that's because it was recorded cheaply. The band became tighter and better songwriters gradually and by the time "Document" was released in 1987, the production sounded better because the budget was bigger.

I hold the first five LPs of REM in very high regard, but my personal favourites would be "Life's Rich Pageant" and "Reckoning" (LPs 4 and 2 respectively.) For those who have never heard of any of the early work, below is "The Best of REM" on Spotify which cherry-picks 3 songs from each of the first 5 albums in chronological order, and the opening track is taken from their first EP release "Chronic Town".

Turn it up and, most of all, ENJOY!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Do Anniversaries intend to make us feel old?

Source: www.pefinfo.com

This morning I was reading about the 30th Anniversary of the release of REM's first LP "Murmur" on Consequence of sound.net. Linked to that at the bottom was a list of the 29 albums that are 20 years old this year on Buzzfeed. The one thing about the latter post that grabbed my curiosity was that it said in the introduction "Sorry if this makes you feel totally ancient".

Is that actually the point of these things? When an artist re-releases an album to coincide with the anniversary of its original release, is it designed to elicit nostalgia? Or does it serve to remind us that we are all advancing in years and we haven't been paying attention to that fact?

I think it is interesting to reflect on when albums were released, purely based on the fact that they either reflect the times it was created in or, in some cases, how they were so out of their time compared to other music available at the time. That's why an album like "Astral Weeks" by Van Morrison is an interesting listen, because it sounds nothing anything that was released before it, or like anything else at the time of its release, or like anything released since.

The age of the music never bothers me either. If a record was made 35 years ago, but I hear for the first time today, then it's "new" music to me. If it's good music, I don't care how old it is.

Probably a more pertinent question, and the answer is certainly much more interesting on a social level, is "Where were you when you first heard [insert album name here]?" In many cases, if you weren't even born when an album was released, but the music made some intense impact on you, does it really matter when it was released?

It's something worth thinking about...

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Ngoni

Unusual and exotic stringed instruments just absolutely fascinate me. Being a guitarist, I'm endlessly fascinated how stringed instruments can be built differently, can sound differently and can be played in different styles. I discovered this one, the Ngoni, through the latest album by Malian musician Bassekou Kouyate and his band Ngoni Ba. The album is called "Jama Ko" and it is an amazing piece of music, not least for the way Bassekou incorporates western playing techniques and signal processing on his instrument.

According to Wikipedia, the Ngoni is thought to be an ancient ancestor to the Banjo once the African slave trade began. It is an interestingly built instrument, built similarly to a guitar or a banjo, however the body is made from the shell of the fruit of a calabash plant, or from wood and is covered in dried goat skin. It has a long fretless fingerboard and can contain anywhere from 6 to 12 strings. It is commonly found in West African countries such as Ghana and Mali.

When electricified, it has an unusual timbre. Twangy, yet somewhat deeper, but not unlike an Asian instrument such as a koto. Being fretless, it can produce unusually pitched notes and some unusual sounding bends when the strings are struck and pushed up against the fretboard. With the strings being lower to the body, the speed at which a virtuoso can play these instruments is lightning fast and it is fascinating to listen to. Couple that with solid and eminently danceable rhythmic backdrop, and you have some seriously fun music.

Below is an amateur film clip of Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba filmed at this years WOMADelaide festival. The first half of this is two Ngoni players trading solos before they go into some synchronised moves that put Status Quo to shame. The rhythm is insistent, so if you feel compelled to dance (how could one not?) go right ahead. Around 1:19, Bassekou filters his Ngoni through a cry-baby wah wah pedal.

It's joyous and fun music, and it looks like both band and audience during this set had a ball.


Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Escape from Toytown

Yesterday I let Billy Bragg explain what life was like under the rule of one of Britian's most divisive politicians, Margaret Thatcher.

Today I bring you a tribute to an equally divisive politician, but this time from the Australian Sphere: one Pauline Hanson.

Pauline Hanson, for those who don't know, stood on a platform of hard-right conservatism with a minor party named One Nation. She raised the ire of the other right-wing party in this country, The Liberal-National party, as she encroached a little too vehemently on their ideological turf, but that's a story for Margo Kingston to tell...

She got her start in the public eye by running a small Fish and Chip shop in the rural Queensland town of Ipswitch. Some of her political office staffers were known to remark in her absence that the fiery redhead was "The Fish and Chip Bitch from Ipswitch", no doubt in reference to her temper. Once she became notorious for her outspoken radical beliefs, a young Brisbane band called Escape from Toytown took the nickname, crafted a state-of-the-nation-circa-1996 address around the theme, scored some airplay on legendary alternative station 4ZZZ-FM and they quietly went off into history books.


Tuesday, 9 April 2013


...from the point of view of the British working class.

God bless Billy Bragg. He really deserves a knighthood. I offer no judgement or view on the passing of former British prime minister, the late Baroness Margaret Thatcher. It is neither my place nor am I qualified by virtue of my age to comment. If nothing else however, she inspired some of contemporary music's best to write some poignant music, of which this is one example.


Monday, 8 April 2013

Pathways into Classical Music Appreciation


How a awkward kid from an Australian semi-rural cultural back-water became all musically literate and edificated...

... or some crap like that...

People ask me frequently how I manage to listen to all kinds of varied music. I listen to everything from Renaissance-era Lute music through to hardcore punk, and all points in between. For some people, that's too broad a scope and it is beyond comprehension for them. I guess it all depends on the way it is introduced to you and the way you approach it in the first place.

For most people, and I was no different, they are introduced to this stuff in junior high school music. "This is what classical music is, now sit there and appreciate it." Others learn instruments and learn to play classical-era pieces at the expense of anything modern. This could go part of the way to explaining why we tend to hate it so much - we didn't come to the music on our own terms.

My psych lecturer at university explained a method of learning new information:
  • take in new information,
  • how does this new information relate to information I already know?
  • how can I use this information in the future?

This explains how I managed to get into classical music: some of the bands I knew and loved as a kid were trying out new things that just happened to be classical ideas.

For example:

  • "Jesus Christ Superstar" and The Who's "Tommy" were operas, albeit with rock instruments.
  • The Beatles used 19th-century chamber quartet-style arrangements on songs like "Yesterday" and "Eleanor Rigby".
  • They also cribbed a short burst of melody from one of Bach's "Brandenburg" concertos for the trumpet solo in "Penny Lane".
  • My dad played a lot of Neil Diamond around the house, so I was unwittingly exposed to Mozart via "Song Sung Blue".

Other initial contacts with classical music include the Warner Brothers classic cartoons where Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd parodied Rossini's "The Barber of Seville", and where they condensed 19 hours of Wagner's "The Ring of the Nebelung" down to just seven minutes.

Of course, some of the musicians I loved also happened to be classically trained: Yngwie Malmsteen and Randy Rhoads (who played on Ozzy Osbourne's first two solo albums) for instance.

It wasn't until I heard a piece of music by a person named Walter Carlos (now Wendy Carlos) entitled "Country Lane" that blew my mind. "Country Lane" was part of the soundtrack of "A Clockwork Orange" and it was a very early synthesizer work. Its ever-changing key signatures, complex chords and brooding dark atmosphere just hit the spot as a precocious 15 year old.

Country Lane by Wendy Carlos on Grooveshark

In high school I found a pivotal record among the music resources in the form of Carlos' "Switched On Bach", which contained famous Bach pieces played exclusively on some very embryonic Moog Synthesizers. By the time I'd heard it for the first time (circa 1993), synth technology had advanced considerably, so the sounds were quite archaic. However, the beauty of the music was evident, and I heard enough of it in "Switched On Bach" to know that this was impeccably crafted music, overflowing with melody and supported by a rich tapestry of ornamentation.

 The next step was to try some classical guitar albums. As a young guitarist at the time, this caught my imagination. I also listened to the Andre Segovia records that were also in the resource room and they were also fascinating. The musicianship, the complex chords, the lightening fast runs of notes; these players possessed a discipline and dedication to their instrument that far outstripped anything I was capable of.

 From there I found John Williams, the Melbourne born classical guitarist, student of Segovia, who was probably the first classical guitarist to risk his career and reputation by picking up that most dreaded instrument in the eyes of classical purists: the electric guitar. Mind you, his band Sky performed a rocked up version of Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" that I consider to be the definitive performance of the piece.

 For a while it seemed almost everywhere I looked, classical influences were being integrated everywhere. The sportman's favourite theme music "Fanfare for the Common Man" was a trumpet fanfare written by composer Aaron Copeland, rocked up by Emerson Lake and Palmer. Electric Light Orchestra grafted a chamber string quartet onto a traditionally-configured rock band. Frank Zappa idolised Igor Stravinsky and Edgard Varese, and Frank was always incorporating some of the stranger, more avant garde aspects of their work into his own increasingly complex compositions.

 I'd purchased Zappa's "We're Only In It For The Money" in the mid 1990s on the recommendation from one of those lists of "Greatest albums of all time". For years I hated it, until I studied 20th century music as part of my degree. Listening to some of the strangest music I'd ever heard in that class, and hearing works by his inspirations suddenly made Zappa's more esoteric work (such as this one) make sense.

 Three Pieces Op 11 - 1. Massig by Arnold Shoenberg on Grooveshark

 Hearing Scheonberg's serialist piano works can be quite painful at times, but after hearing them, I now know why David Bowie was inspired by them. For years I hated the piano solo in "Alladin Sane". However, the song is about his mentally-ill half brother, and by adding a bizarre atonal, arhythmic piano solo of this nature to the song was actually a stroke of genius. After all, the title "Alladin Sane" is a pun on "A Lad Insane"...

 Aladdin Sane by David Bowie on Grooveshark

20th Century music was the greatest liberating factor for me as a composer, as it meant that one could take the traditional music rule book and torch it with a flame thrower. Rules, syntax, constructs didn't matter anymore. You could write your own rules. That's one of the reasons that some of the most ugly, difficult sounding music (as it sounds to most) is quite a thrilling listen to me, as I find it to be very free and unhinged, unbound by complex rules and traditions that may in fact hold a piece of music down or make it sound like something else.

In all of the cases cited above, all it takes is for a musician to incorporate something unusual or different into their work for one to gain exposure to a number of different styles of music, and as such, I could then go and approach this music as I felt I needed to - on it's own merits, in my own way. I didn't just believe what people told me was "good music".  I didn't just assume that "I had to like it" just because someone said I did. Indeed, I probably would not have found the pieces of music that a music teacher would recommend a student should listen to, but that's precisely the point: From the massively green field of classical music, I've managed to cultivate my own, if strangely manicured, patch within it.

Everyone has their own story to tell, and not everybody would follow the same path to discovering music as I have.  Tell me about yours in the comments below.

And as much as I love Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", I still can't stand Romantic-period Opera!

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Little Hornet!!!

Little Hornet!!! Where the hell have you been? I've been looking for you for ages!

Here's a great guitar-pop band that sprung up from Newcastle in the mid 1990s and then seemingly disappeared into oblivion almost as quickly, never to be heard from again.

 They burst out of the gate with a cracking tune called "C'Mon Mrs Jones" which charted high in the alternative top 20 in Australia, and scored itself heaps of airplay around the place, but unfortunately not too many copies flew off the shelves.

Second single "Mr Lazy", while not quite as immediate, didn't do as well, and third single "Don't Cry Mother" sank without a trace, to my knowledge. They also released two albums according to my cursory research, but they hardly ever turn up second hand and as such I deem them to be quite rare. So here's hoping Tyrone Penshorn (the singer/guitarist from the band who uploaded the clips below) sees fit to reissue the entire back catalog again, possibly on iTunes and streaming.

Like Header, as featured last week, Little Hornet demonstrated that Australian pub-rock bands with strong Anglophile leanings just didn't capture the local public's imagination, no matter how great they were. It's truly a great shame. However, it is my pleasure to give the band some due credit. And also to celebrate the fact that I've finally found a recording of the song to listen to after all these years, on YouTube!!!

Fellow readers and internet citizens, I give you



Saturday, 6 April 2013

R.I.P Chris Bailey

Australia's music world lost two of the best this week, in the form of expert musical director and arranger Tommy Tycho, and bass player Chris Bailey.

There's been a bit of confusion around the interwebs regarding Chris Bailey and I seek to lay this one to rest.  This is NOT the Chris Bailey who formed The Saints in Brisbane in 1974.  It is Chris Bailey that played with the Angels from 1977 to 1982.

He originally joined the band in 1977, before the recording of The Angel's first record, in order to free up Doc Neeson to forge his place in Australian Rock folklore as the mad Irishman.

Chris left the band before the recording of 1983's "Watch The Red" LP.  He later joined (and then managed) GANGgajang.  He rejoined one of the many reincarnations of the Angels doing the rounds (that mess is worthy of a novel in itself) before succumbing to throat cancer on April 4, 2013.  He will be missed.

Here'a a clip of the Angels, with Chris on bass, at the Concert of the Decade, 1979 on the steps of the Sydney Opera House.  They're performing the track "I Ain't The One" from the essential "Face To Face" LP.  Apologies for the audio which has Doc's voice dropping in and out all over the shop.

Vale Chris (and Tommy - I'll write about you soon.)


Friday, 5 April 2013

The Real Thing???

Normally this is not the forum for political comment, but this was too good a piece not to share.

In this day and age, with information at our fingertips and news of current political events seemingly in our faces within minutes of them happening, the man who could very well be the next Australian prime minister has been strangely silent in the media.

If the current government keeps eating itself alive at the current rate, Tony Abbott could end up being PM by default. Given his lack of comment in the news, with no policies seemingly forthcoming, how do we know he's the real deal?

The animation below was posted by illustrator Rocco Fazzari on the Sydney Morning Herald's website. The soundtrack is a parody of "The Real Thing" written by Johnny Young and performed by Russell Morris. This version has new words written by Denis Carnahan. Enjoy.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Remake/Remodel #2: Counting Crows do Joni MItchell

Some covers are done as affectionate tributes. Some are a genuine effort to elevate a merely competent original into something extraordinary.  Some are done with the purest of intentions, but fall short of the mark.

In 2003, Counting Crows released their version of a once-pleasant, environmentally conscious Joni Mitchell song called "Big Yellow Taxi".

Despite its serious message, "Big Yellow Taxi" is one of Joni's brightest songs, with a stunning clear guitar tone and with a sunny feel to it. You can't help but smile when listening to it.

The Counting Crows version, from the outset, is all kinds of wrong.  Adam Duritz, with his Van-Morrison-on-Venice-Beach styled laconic drawl is plain awful, delivering a lifeless vocal performance that doesn't suit the song. Vanessa Carlton's guest appearance on the backing vocals are also all wrong - the chord she harmonises with her overdubbed vocal layers is far darker than the original and sticks another nail in the coffin of an already bad remake.

Add to that the producers pushing the auto-pilot button on every studio gadget available to them, and you have one stinker of a record. Apparently this was only the secret track on the band's "Hard Candy" LP. Hiding it at the end of an album is too good for a recording that should have been drowned at birth.

My verdict: Yuk. Search out the original.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Coldplay is BBC Radio2's favourite

The NME is reporting this morning that Coldplay's second LP "A Rush of Blood To The Head" is the most popular album of all time, according to a poll run by BBC Radio 2.

For Australian listeners who may not know, the BBC Radio 2 is a bit like ABC Local, such as 2BL 702 Sydney or 774 in Melbourne or 612 in Brisbane, but without the news analysis programs like "The World Today" and lots more music programming.  It's filled with specialist music shows like a Country show, hits of the 60s and 70s, documentaries on musicians, plus Big Band music programs, devotional music on Sunday mornings and many other things.  It suits a wide range of tastes and is widely regarded as the (British) nation's favourite station.

Traditionally, Radio 2 was called the "Light Programme" or light entertainment, generally to amuse housewives during the day.  To a point, it still is light entertainment - it's not like you're going to hear the Ramones played during the breakfast show (if you want that, go to BBC 6Music).  But for many years, young people or even people in their 30s wouldn't dare listen to Radio 2 - it just wasn't for them.

One thing's for sure is that BBC Radio 2 plays the most agreeable, yet varied selection of music from all time.  You'll hear everything from Sinatra to Emilie Sande and all points in between, but very little of it is offensive.  Sure there's the best of Indie and alternative played there, mixed in with northern Soul and rock classics, but it is extremely varied generally, and unlike any radio station - government, community or commercial - in Australia.

I'm not surprised by the result of the poll.  After all, a poll run by digital music station BBC 6Music recently picked "Clocks" by Coldplay as the best song of the last 10 years.  However, I think there is a lot that BBC Radio 2 programmers can take away from this result. 

Whatever the result of the poll, the poll was flawed from the outset.  Visitors to the Radio 2 website were given the list of 100 albums and then expected to vote for their favourite.  It was a foregone conclusion that one of them would be the most popular.  I would have supplied a longer list or changed the voting to a more ballot-styled system, where you could vote for 5 or 10 albums maybe, and then pick the ones most voted for.  This could have allowed for some interesting data mining analysis, in terms of finding out what else listeners would have picked besides their one favourite.

Not only that, there was only one LP from each artist in the list - two at best.  That both ensures diversity of choices but excludes many worthy candidates from the vote.

Following the live blog and the comments on it, it was clear that many people thought that key albums such as "Breakfast In America" or "Hotel California" were ranked too low.  Surprise, surprise.  Looking through the top 10 selections, it's interesting that most of the records are from a key period in music history, along with a scattering of classics.

My view? Generation X has spoken.  This is the top 10 albums of many mid-30s to mid-40s people with young families doing the school/sports run on weekdays.  There's albums from their primary school/teenage years (Duran Duran, U2 and Pet Shop Boys), classics from their festival/gig attending years (Dido, Coldplay, Keane) and classics that they grew up with from their parents record collection ("Sticky Fingers", "Dark Side of the Moon", "Sgt Pepper", "A Night at The Opera").

If you were to listen to Radio 2 from the time you wake up until the time you went to sleep at night, you would hear a wide range of music, so it is my belief that the listeners to the station are well versed in music of all types.  I think the top 10 choices reflect the core age and demographic of the station.  Radio 2 is no longer "the housewives choice" or the choice of the Baby Boomers and their parents, but the station that middle-aging, disaffected Radio 1 listeners of 20 years ago have turned to.  There's a lot of programming direction to be gained from that.

The top 10: (courtesy of NME.co.uk and the BBC)

1. Coldplay 'A Rush Of Blood To The Head' (2002)
2. Keane 'Hopes and Fears' (2004)3. Duran Duran 'Rio' (1982)4. Pink Floyd 'The Dark Side Of The Moon' (1973)5. Dido 'No Angel' (1999)6. The Rolling Stones 'Sticky Fingers' (1971)7. The Pet Shop Boys 'Actually' (1987)8. The Beatles 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' (1967)9. U2 'The Joshua Tree' (1987)10. Queen 'A Night At The Opera' (1975)

Monday, 1 April 2013

March 2013 Playlist

It's that time again, where The Sound and the Fury Podcast presents the monthly playlist.

This month we have a selection from all the albums we've listened to privately, as well as selections from the albums and artists we have featured here on the blog.

What you can expect to find on here includes:

  • New tracks from Billy Bragg, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Iron Reagan, Melbourne Ska Orchestra, Nick Moran, Walk off The Earth, Vance Joy and Nightmare Air
  • Classics from Van Halen, White Stripes, Young Rascals, The Who, The Stone Roses, Split Enz, Pulp, Promises and Motorhead
  • Great Aussie tunes from Neon, Something for Kate, Chad Morgan, Paul Kelly, The Porkers, Powderfinger, Sticky Fingers, Effigy, Rogerthat, and Tamam Shud
  • A new track from Dave Grohl's Sound City project featuring Australian ex-pat Rick Springfield
  • Avant Garde weirdness from Painkiller, Michael Finnissy, Marco Capelli, and Apocalyptica

and heaps more.

Put it on random, turn it up and ENJOY!