2015 Music Review

Note for readers – post started on December 30th 2015 and finished on 3rd January 2016.

My town has its own rock festival. Yes there are plenty of towns across this fair land with their own rock festivals –perhaps a handful of minor bands on an outside stage over the course of the weekend – names you might never have heard of and may never hear of again, give their all, whilst you stand around clutching a beer and the air all around is thick with the stink of fried food. At the other end of the scale, there are those huge mega-fests with massive open stages where hundreds of thousands of people gather to see their favourite stars, performing. You are miles from the stage, the band is barely visible, the musicians are no higher than Playmobil figurines and as the rain pours down in a Biblical deluge and the field turns to a sea of mud; you try you best to follow the proceedings on a far away video screen.

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My chosen town of rural exile is Bourges, a historic blob of 70,000 souls, situated at the geographical centre of la Belle France – in other words we are in the middle of the middle of nowhere. What better place for a rock festival? For the past 40 years, our local rock festival “Le Printemps de Bourges” has played host to a plethora of international stars from the likes of Lou Reed and Sting right through to Patti Smith and Iggy Pop and the Ramones (plus others too numerous to mention) – Of course I am only telling you this for what follows.

I think it’s the 26th April, but I can’t remember exactly, I’m just tired and I am sitting in a room full of French music journalists, translating a press conference for a very nice young American chap, resplendent in an Edwardian suit, coiffed by a traditional British bowler hat and clutching a glass of beer – apart from his rather distinctive dress, he is also wearing a huge, slightly drunken boyish grin as he tries to take seriously all those questions he has already answered several hundred times already during his band’s present world tour. Just who the hell he is, I have no idea, I’m just the poorly paid translator. After the press conference, this very polite young man (who is a drummer) and myself, enjoy a lengthy conversation about European beers (much to the annoyance of the lady from the record company.) Before his departure, the young drummer man flings me a copy of the band’s CD, he even takes a couple of minutes to autograph it.

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I stare at the CD –“The Rival Sons” that’s the name of the band. Never heard of them. The CD is entitled “Great Western Walkyrie.”

A few days later in a bored moment, I put the CD on in the car.

OOOOOOOOH WOOOOOOW F***ME F******************G HELL.

There’s like this f***ing battering ram of sounds ripping its way out the speakers. Oh s**t, this is, this is … this is as good as Nirvarna when they smelled like teen spirit all those years ago.

Later I tell a drummer friend that I’ve met the drummer from the Rival Sons.

“OOOOOOOOH WOOOOOOW F***ME F******************G HELL.”

I kind of get the idea that these guys might be famous. So, I’ve met a famous guy who I didn’t know was famous. What the hell, we had a good chat about beer. What’s p****ng me off now is that I have mislaid my Rival Sons CD – at least I have the signed sleeve, but I don’t have the CD and I want to listen to it again, because since Lemmy died yesterday and I listened to Motorhead non-stop all day, I am now on a severe diet of hard and heavy and I’ve just finished Ted Nugent and now I want the Rival Sons.

Yes, Rival Sons were an excellent discovery this year, so, I’m going to keep their CD, but it won’t be the case for others.

It’s my annual CD inventory (oh that sounds sad) – but ever since I had to clear out my dead mum’s flat a few years back, I have resolved not too horde crap, but only to keep essential noise.

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I started the year with he new Charlatans (or Charlatans UK for U.S readers) album “Modern Nature.” I was a big early Charlatans fan back in the late 80s and early 90s. They had a kind of slick pop that was supercharged by a Hammond organ. Their first singles “The only one I know” and “Then” – great, but I lost track of them as I moved to my small town in France with its small record shop that stocked mainly French music; this was way before the Internet, so if you wanted anything exotic lile a Charlatans album, you’d have to order it specially and wait ages for delivery, or hop on a train to Paris for a record buying expedition. So, January 2015, the new Charlatans album …a bit mediocre, a bit minimalist, all the songs sound the same. Probably going to the charity shop, though I might just keep it for nostalgia’s sake.

Here’s a couple for the charity shop

“English Graffiti” by the Vaccines and “Sound and Colour” by the Alabama Shakes.

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Yes this was a failed CD buying expedition. The Vaccines CD was in prime position in the CD racks, the poster in the record shop hailed this group as “the best thing in English pop for 2015” – good old Britpop. I’m a great Oasis fan, I’ll buy Britpop every time. Big mistake. The last time I made this mistake I bought an album by a group called “The Foals”. I translated for them at my local rock festival, the only reason their CD didn’t end up in the charity shop was because they signed it and the guitaritst did some arty drawings on the inner sleeve. Can’t quite get into the Vaccines. It is the same plight for Alabama Sound. The vendor at the record shop tells me that they are just like the Black Keys – can’t quite see (or hear) the connexion myself, and as for the Black Keys … very disappointed by the follow up to El Camino in the same way that Arcade Fire were never the same after their Suburbs album.

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Next up in this year’s acquisitions. Mr Paul Weller and “SaturnsPatterns”. Never quite sure about Mr Weller. “Stanley Road”, “Heavy Soul” “Days of Speed” “As is Now”, “Studio 150” all excellent stuff, but he lost it on “Heliocentric”, “Wake up the Nation”, “22 Dreams” and this year’s “Saturns Patterns”. I will keep this one to delve into. The problem is, I fundamentally like Paul Weller. After my interminable heavy metal years, it was the Jam that signalled my wake up call for other types of music – not only for Mr Weller’s song writing capabilities and tight riffs, but also Bruce Foxton’s excellent bass playing. I would rate Bruce Foxton as high as Jack Bruce (RIP). So I will forgive Mr Weller his mid 50’s musings and keep Saturns Patterns for future listening.

Now Mr Weller is a curious beast – as much as some of his songs may annoy me, he is great to sing – as a vocalist in an acoustic band I take no greater pleasure than in singing Mr Weller’s songs. There is nothing superfluous in Paul Weller, you’ve got to sing what you get when you get it with no extra voice effects – you cant prolong the notes, you can’t add warbling effects, you have to sing what is there when it is there with the same minimalism. When you sing Adele, you can warble away and add floating notes everywhere, with Paul Weller, you can’t hang around. It’s the same with Oasis and Amy Winehouse, you just gotta sing it like it is.Speaking of Oasis, I’m clutching a copy of Noel Gallaher’s High Flying Birds – “Chasing Yesterday” (story of my life says me).

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The second solo offering from Noel Gallagher after the demise of Oasis. “Chasing Yesterday” is classic Noel Gallagher, what more can I say. I never managed to get to see Oasis live , but I went to see Mr Gallagher in Paris back in March. A great concert in a small 4000 seat venue and the place appeared to be half empty.

The French never went for that late eighties to late nineties Manchester-inspired music scene, that the press baptised “Britpop”: Stone Roses, Charlatans, James, Inspiral Carpets, Oasis, to name but a few – sure they might have done a symbolic French date on a European Tour, but most French people have either never heard of them, or just aren’t enamoured of “Britpop”. I’m not complaining, this means I can see Noel Gallagher doing a warm-up gig in Paris for about half the price I’ll see him in London. I’m standing right in front of the stage. I can see Mr Gallagher doing his cord changes – the place is half empty like some kind of university campus gig by an unnkown group. That was in March. In April it was the sale story for Paul Weller, the “Modfather” who can fill major UK venues is doing his only French gig this year in an 800 seat venue in downtown Paris – and I couldn’t find anyone to go with because it was a midweek gig.

Back at the music

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“Songs of Innocence” – Yeah, I bought this year’s offering from U2 on the strength of the single “The Miracle.” Hooray, U2 are making proper rock music again. A couple of decent opening tracks and then, I will leave the rest to true U2 fans. Sure I like U2. They were one of the bands I grew up with. In those latter years at school during the late eighties, Sundaynight was all about last minute homework whilst listening to those kind of Sunady night radio shows where they played U2 – Annie Nightingale on BBC Radio One and then after 9pm, I’d flip over on to Radio Caroline – the latter was my staple teenage listening. I liked the early stuff, Boy, October, War. The 1983 live album “Under a blood Red Sky” still rates as one of my all time live album favourites – it is kind of raw and vital, then with the Joshua Tree, U2 got kind of sophisticated and I lost touch. U2 are one of these essential bands for any decent CD collection, I have a couple of “Greatest hits” compilations and … I suppose for me, U2 are one of those bands in the same league as the Cure – I grew up with them without being especially interested, even though I saw the Cure in concert back in 1987. Some good tunes and a “Greatest hits” compilation lurking somewhere in my CD collection.

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Last acquisition of the year – the new reformed Libertines and their album “Anthems for Doomed Youth” a title purloigned from British war poet Wilfred Owen. I liked Pete Doherty’s solo stuff, so I bought “Anthems …” on the strength of this and … ten excellent and quintessentially “English” songs. Possibly my best buy of the year.

From the bargain buckets – those stacks of new, unsold, cheap CDs – well, that classic Supertramp album – “Breakfast in America”. I’ve heard it all again and again and somuch that I actually though I already had it in the collection. NO! So, 5 Euros later I now have the Supertrtamp classic and a head full of memories of the summer of 79.

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Also from the bargain racks – a greatest hits compilation by UK- based 1980 Ska band The Beat. Yes, I would never have told anyone at school, but thanks to John Peel’s late night weekday music show on BC Radio One, during the early 80s I was listening to The Specials, The Rezillos, The Buzzcocks and the Beat. The BBC was for punk and pop and Radio Caroline was for classic rock.

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The big 2015 album I shall not buy – Adele 25 – yeah she is a great singer, yeah she has some good tunes, but I already have one Adele album (21) so this is enough Adele for anyone.

Up and coming for 2016 – A French music magazine tells me that the new Bowie single will be available for download in March, with an album to follow and also in 2016, a new Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s – hope it is as good as the last offering.

To end at the beginning – this year as every year, my town will be holding its annual music festival in April – this year’s headliner … Mika (oh dear)

Try the website

http://www.printemps-bourges.com

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