Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Last Words on 2007

Not only has The Wire magazine made the boldest choice of album of the year amongst the print media with Robert Wyatt's 'Comicopera', it also continues to publish rather neat personal summaries of the closing year from both writers and artists. I rather like this - so here's my subjective take on 2007, in a similar style albeit much less concise! All in no particular order, entirely personal and NOT WRITTEN IN A WORK CAPACITY.


Love in various forms.

Turnpike Lane – especially the late-opening Melish Supermarket.

The Tiffin Tin in Hornsey - A fine Indian takeaway and occasional life-saver.

Facebook - It sounds completely pathetic, but joining it might well be the most significant thing I did all year. It has its drawbacks, and the privacy concerns are valid - but I'm rather convinced that the positives still outweigh the negatives.

Charity Shops - I've built a substantial library from them this year!

Secure, gainful employment - during daylight hours!!

Discovering that self-expression really isn't actually all that hard and having the audacity to ask of my friends only what they ask of me.

Rediscovering the hunger to write music and lyrics - and finding new approaches towards both.

The Space Race album 'You Are The Guest' - few have heard it, but it might just be the best recorded work I've been involved with so far.

Daniel Lambert and Fake Sheikh - now on hiatus, but some great songs, videos and gigs earlier in the year.

Performing at the Isle of Wight Jazz Festival, The Vortex and The Ram Jam Club, amongst other venues.

Finally finishing as a student and becoming a teacher at WAC Performing Arts and Media College - there's no doubt I'd stuck around too long and should have moved on, but it was gratifying to be recognised so warmly and genuinely at the end.

Seeing Win Butler letting a group of ticketless teenagers in through the stage door at the Arcade Fire’s show at Porchester Hall. The band’s encore – moving from the venue foyer back upstairs and into the centre of the crowd was something very special, and helps explain the unique appeal of this band.

Tim Whitehead's Jazz Summer School at Battisborough House on the coast of Devon: A wonderful, confidence-boosting week of music-making and merriment completely free from worldly concerns. It brought a few things into sharp relief - namely that, although I haven't achieved much commercial success through it so far, playing drums is what I do best and is worth persisting with until I die or become incapacitated. Secondly, although we've never played a proper public gig and have never really ‘rehearsed’, the Millar/Marle-Garcia/Paton set-up has a real chemistry.

The restraint, dignity and honesty of Alan Johnston’s speech to World Service staff on his release from captivity and the strangely moving experience of gathering outside Bush House to campaign for his release and then celebrate his return.

The World Service in its 75th Anniversary year.

Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony paired with Lindberg’s Clarinet Concerto at the Proms. Wonderful!

Madrid - an invigorating quick stop in one of Europe's finest cities. The restaurant that claims to be the oldest in Europe produced some particularly fine cuisine.

and Nanjing - Two amazing weeks observing Shanghai and its blisteringly intense pace of life. The distinctly odd experience of being a Westerner in the East, superb cuisine, basking in the company of good friends, tea-tasting, aimless walking proving the best way to discover a city’s secrets, the beautiful auburn coloured trees in the National Park in Nanjing (especially when viewed from the top floor of a pagoda), relative peace of mind and a whole raft of rare DVDs to boot!

Two wonderful weddings and the joy of observing the happiness and fulfilment of the first of my University friends to tie the knot.

Joe Lovano peforming Streams of Expression and much more at the Barbican.

The Loop Collective and their regular Monday gigs at The Oxford in Kentish Town - at last a jazz club with blood, enthusiasm, clever programming and a sensible promotional strategy.

Meeting Paul Clarvis, Seb Rochford, Ingrid Laubrock, Bill Frisell and Mike Gibbs.

The London Sinfonietta's 'Ligeti Remembered' concerts.

Mark-Antony Turnage's 'About Water' - not his best work, but his understanding of the interconnections between various forms of contemporary music remains refreshing. The performance also introduced me to Barb Jungr, a talented and charismatic performer, whose reinterpretations of Dylan are splendid.

Tom Millar's Swinging and Shiva Feshareki's Dancefloor Distortions - two 'student' compositions as vibrant, engaging and sophisticated as any other new music I heard in 2007. The two composers are younger than me in years but may have taught me more than anyone my senior during the course of the year.

Bob Dylan at Wembley Arena - so good I went back for the second night. Easily the best gigs I've seen him play and that cracked voice genuinely sounds fantastic when he bothers to enunciate. He is essentially a rapper now. Superb renditions of Spirit on the Water, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll and John Brown stick in the mind particularly.

Adrian Roye, Beth Dariti and Astic Borders - Two outstanding songwriters and their consistently enjoyable collective. They deserve more attention.

The perceptive songwriting of Simon Lewis. Hopefully more prominent in 2008!

Three Trapped Tigers - The most adventurous new band in London (Supersilent meeting Battles with a twist of Keith Jarrett) and my big tip for 2008.

The winter blankets at that Young’s pub by Tate Modern.

Polar Bear at the Museum of Garden History - Just observing that alchemical connection between Rochford and Herbert was worth a thousand jam sessions or workshops.

Becoming a committed reader of yet more blogs - Audiversity, Raven Sings The Blues and Free Jazz in particular.

Rediscovering a love of language and literature: Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road' (which I underestimated considerably at first and to which I had to return), Philip Roth's 'Exit Ghost' (a fine novel undersold by critics envious of Roth's undiminished prowess) and Colm Toibin's wonderful story collection 'Mothers and Sons'. Also plenty with which I was previously shamefully unfamiliar - Reinaldo Arenas, Jose Saramago, Joseph Conrad, F Scott Fitzgerald, Paul Bowles, Elizabeth Smart, Patrick White (why are almost all his works unavailable at the moment?), Thomas Bernhard....Rian Malan's 'My Traitor's Heart', a brave and excoriating examination of Apartheid-era South Africa.

The print journalism of Henry Porter and Jenni Russell

Discovering Prospect magazine - a better source of informed debate than many of the broadsheet newspapers.

Comment is Free on The Guardian website, where all manner of weirdos, geniuses and insane people appear to dwell.

The writing and email newsletters of Alex Stein.

The film criticism of Peter Bradshaw and Jonathan Romney, the music writing of John Mulvey (especially on the Wild Mercury Sound blog), Philip Sherburne, David Stubbs, Marcello Carlin and more.

John Kell’s new blog proving more edifying and cogently argued than almost anything in print.

Great covermount CDs with Jazzwise, The Wire, Mojo and even The Word.

Tim Berne at the Vortex, Tom Rainey's inspired drumming.

Catching Joe Zawinul’s last ever London performance at the Jazz CafĂ© and recognising both reverence and enthusiasm in Django Bates’ outstanding tribute at the Barbican to close the London Jazz Festival.

Some cinematic treats - All About Eve on the big screen (nobody writes scripts so consistently razor sharp anymore), Edward Yang’s colossal ‘A Brighter Summer Day’ at the same cinema.

Discovering the cinema of Terence Davies, Tsai Ming-Liang (especially the exquisite 'I Don't Want To Sleep Alone'), Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Peter Watkins, Mikio Naruse and Jan Svankmajer.

Watching Shortbus and In The Mood For Love on DVD - respectively the best films about sex and love made during my lifetime?

Finally getting round to watching Spike Lee’s ‘Do The Right Thing’ and finding that his appalling later films do indeed do their best to hide his talent.

Watching Derek Jarman’s ‘Blue’ for the first time – perhaps the most unfailingly honest self-portrait conceivable – a blue screen for 80 minutes and the most extraordinary soundtrack I can remember hearing. It combines to produce a profound, devastating but ultimately positive experience.

Quality new films a little thin on the ground this year - Climates, Syndromes and a Century, Zodiac, The Lives of Others, Knocked Up, Hot Fuzz, The Simpsons Movie, Control, Beyond Hatred, Ghosts, The Bourne Ultimatum but still more to see mercifully (Assassination of Jesse James, Into the Wild, Yella, Jindabyne, Silent Light, Paranoid Park, Lust Caution, I'm Not There).

Cape Wrath, Skins and House on Channel 4, The Wire on FX, half of Dr. Who on BBC, The Mighty Boosh, Spooks even at its most absurd. I avoided Heroes completely.

Continuing to work through DVDs of Northern Exposure seasons 3 and 4 and Peep Show 1-3, rediscovering the sheer blinding genius of Seinfeld and I’m Alan Partridge.

Bill Fay appearing onstage with Wilco, reticent and masked by a gigantic beard, but definitely him! Can Jeff Tweedy coax him into recording new material now? The astounding guitar playing of Nels Cline and adventurous percussion of Glenn Kotche also impressed.

The Smoking Ban
- I was ambivalent to start with, but I'm a fully fledged supporter now!

Alexis Taylor's press release for the Robert Wyatt album.

Aphex Twin as The Tuss – an accidental but criminal omission from my albums of the year.

Steely Dan at Hammersmith Apollo and Daniel Johnston at the Union Chapel – two very different concerts in the same week, both surprisingly moving.

Daft Punk in Hyde Park - perhaps the most profound and exciting communal dance music experience I can remember. That pyramid spacepod thing was just amazing.

Dirty Projectors in support of Beirut at Koko – possibly the best support set I’ve seen this decade.

LCD Soundsystem's 'All My Friends' perfectly encapsulating the sensation of still feeling young, accompanied by a stark awareness of growing older and its accompanying poignancy. I would play this song at the start of any wedding DJ set. Where are my friends tonight?

Sly Stone’s bizarre appearance in Boscombe (for the 15 minutes he was on stage).

Vincent Cable - Perhaps the only decent thing to have emerged from the Liberal Democrat implosion - a politician of skill, intelligence and integrity. What a shame he was only a temporary blip on an otherwise tediously predictable landscape.

The courage and conviction of the Burmese monks.

The Hype Machine, now cleverly redesigned - an easy route to new music online.

Radiohead subverting the music industry.

The rejuvenation, however temporary it proves to be, of Ronnie O' Sullivan's incomporable genius.

Bosh! club

Rufus Wainwright - he may be camp, but there's also something unrestrained and defiant about him that I really admire. Seeing him sing 'Get Happy' in drag at the Hammersmith Apollo was certainly an experience!

Beth Ditto – one cannot possibly object to her becoming a superstar this year.

Misty's Big Adventure and Chris T-T at Club Fandango - simply superb!

Tim Whitehead’s birthday concert at the Ram Jam club and seeing the great Ian Carr enjoying a glass of red wine.

Bruce Springteen and the E Street Band at the 02 Arena: No Surrender, Because The Night, Racing In The Streets, Jungleland – pretty close to a dream set list. Magic!

A belated discovery of technology - especially iTunes, Digital Photography and MOG.

Knitted scarves.

Older sounds: Brotherhood of Breath, Arthur Russell/Dinosaur L, Young Marble Giants, The Boo Radleys, Ace Records’ Girl pop compilations, The Shangri-Las, Best of Ethiopiques.


Love in various forms.

Confusion and inertia in a number of areas and the frequent failure to convert opportunities into reality.

A feeling of ‘safety’ and a concurrent futile lust for danger.

Insomnia and persistent colds.

The transition to ‘real’ adulthood continuing to be marked by form-filling, multiple bank accounts and institutional inefficiencies. Tedium ad nauseum.

Floods, fires and pestilence – What exactly is all this portending?

Au Revoir Michael Brecker, Alice Coltrane, Luciano Pavarotti, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, Joe Zawinul, Ousmane Sembene, Edward Yang, Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman, Ahmet Ertegun, Karlheinz Stockhausen and many more - far too many legends to lose in one year.

The 'oh-so-conveniently' timed departure of Tony Blair and the spineless 'coronation' of Gordon Brown, a ‘leader’ who has transpired to be every bit as gormless and lacking in judgment as sensible people suspected.

The idea of Tony Blair as a Special Envoy to the Middle East was so laughable it was inevitable that it turned out to be true.

The unsurprising revelation that our personal data is rarely safer in government hands than in the hands of corporations. At least it *might* wake people up to the huge technical and administrative flaws in the terrible ID cards scheme.

The unfolding disaster in Iraq whilst little is done to alleviate the problems in Darfur or Zimbabwe.

The Northern Rock crisis revealing the terrible vulnerability of our seemingly unbreakable ties to the US and its economy. William Hague still seems to be more worried about Europe!

The continuation of New Labour's authoritarian programme and the curse of mutual exclusivity in politics and society: Should we have civil liberties or national security? Individual freedom or a managed economy? I remain astounded at the need for 'debate' here. We can, and should have both! We need a political party bold enough to argue that economic factors can be a big restriction on individual freedom and that the true centre ground in Britain is not the current form of cowardly Thatcherism masked by misleading 'progressive' language. Surely that should be the Liberal Democrats? Oh dear, look what they've done....

Polly Toynbee and her steadfast refusal to criticise Labour on anything.

'Short-termism' - surely one area where we all need some form of government intervention is in planning for our futures. Individuals can all play a part, but a wholesale cultural and social change requires some courage, impetus and direction! International farces like the recent Bali talks on climate change (where an agreement was made to reach an agreement) merely expose world leaders as spineless and incompetent.

The McCann saga and Diana inquest - two lows for the British media this year. The Diana affair has been surrounded by obsessive and tasteless morbidity ('her last smile', 'her dying moments' etc), with no element of her sorry life left private. Reporting on the McCann affair made too many casual assumptions before any due legal process had been instigated. I sympathise greatly with any parents in those circumstances, but making them celebrities did not help anyone, least of all Madeleine.

Bono - Can he please live up to his own ideals before imposing them on everybody else?

Free London newspapers. Can't you see I'm carrying a book?

Andy Murray having to pull out of Wimbledon.

The crisis gripping the media over ‘deception’.

The continuing lack of any truly decent new British literature.

Crowded House in Hyde Park - they brought entirely the wrong kind of weather with them, a freak downpour so heavy it rained through my umbrella. At least Peter Gabriel was good.

Prince at the 02 - Perhaps the most over-hyped and disappointing live music experience of the year, delivering entertainment but little more.

The 02 Arena in general - quite possibly the ghastliest environment in which to see live music.

Sly Stone’s bizarre appearance in Boscome (for the hours and hours of waiting and the 50 minutes of chronic unprofessionalism when his band was onstage but he wasn't).

Band Reunions - Too many, please stop now.

Overpriced concert tickets - £86 to see Neil Young? You must be joking! I accept that market forces dictate prices to a certain extent, but can promoters not see that live music in this country is fast becoming elitist - entirely unafforable for most people on average incomes?

Ticket touts - for inflating ticket prices and preventing ordinary fans from seeing their musical heroes. The failure of the government to tackle the ticketing black market is shameful.

Overpriced sporting event tickets - see above.

The F1 spying saga. I enjoy the politics and soap opera to some extent, but this was a step too far and Fernando Alonso's behaviour seemed particularly questionable. There is a worrying sense that FIA judgements are increasingly arbitrary and inconsistent.

The continuing torment that accompanies being a Spurs supporter.

The lack of political respect for the Arts in Britain - the impossibility of getting funding unless you play some kind of industry game, the lack of interest in contemporary composition outside the music colleges, the continuing patronising attitude towards jazz and popular art forms. Cinema distribution also continues to decline markedly - the recent takeover of Artificial Eye (with some concurrent barmy acquisitions that seem far removed from AE’s established aesthetic) and financial peril of Tartan Films do not hint at a rosy 2008. Funding for serious filmmakers is even worse – Terence Davies is celebrated with a retrospective reminding people of his sublime genius, yet is no longer able to make a film in this country. The Film Council prefers to fund nonsense like the St Trinians remake, which is hugely depressing.

The 'work' ethos – please work to live, not live to work. It's no wonder that the Arts suffer when most people seem to have no interest or energy for going out during the working week!

A whole string of unimaginative and interminably average indie-rock being shamefully presented as something new - Babyshambles, Pigeon Detectives, The Cribs, The Twang, The Kooks etc... (even the names are terrible).
Other overrated charlatans - Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom and much of this tedious freak-folk brigade, Portico Quartet.

The lack of any informed young music writers in print - particularly at the NME - which continues to display breathtaking ignorance of musical history. An easy target for sure, but one that's still worth highlighting – Morrissey seemed to think so anyway.

Talking during gigs - To the two people who audaciously asked me to save their unreserved seats for them at Cat Power's Forum show while they went to the bar - if you're going to ask a stranger a favour, do him the courtesy of not talking through the entire performance! Why pay £20 for the privilege? Go to a pub! Also, to the two women sitting behind us at Bruce Springsteen – whilst I’m sure one telling the other that she should ‘respect her body more’ was excellent advice, there’s a time and a place, and it’s not during a lovely and very quiet rendition of ‘Magic’.

Egotism and indecision amongst musicians - just get on with the business of making original music!

David Lynch's 'Inland Empire' - The more I think about it, the more it seems like an entirely unnecessary companion piece to 'Mulholland Drive' with too many convolutions and indulgences. Why try and complement a masterpiece?

Michel Gondry’s ‘The Science of Sleep’ – whimsical, superficial and silly and the most disappointing film of the year.

Inadequate public services, especially in London. The only posited solutions appear to be more investment or the extension of the unhelpful ‘market’ in service provision. Neither seems particularly imaginative to me in 2007. What would help would be if British government actually expressed some enthusiasm for the service ethos and emphasised its value, instead of consistently undermining the services, then dismantling them because they are failing.

The continuing misuse of words such as ‘modernity’ and ‘reform’ in political discourse.

The classically trained violinist who opened for Jools Holland at the Albert Hall: ‘Entertaining’ an audience with frankly vulgar displays of meaningless virtuosity in a crass attempt to ‘popularise’ what doesn’t need popularising – possibly the worst piece of live music I’ve ever sat through!

A lack of planning for New Year’s Eve yet again.

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