Delving again in to the world of the Q Magazine ‘ 250 Best Albums of our Lifetime’ it was a pleasure, and perhaps a relief, to find a short run of albums that I have already lived with for a while. It’s nice to discover new stuff – I’ll probably investigate a bit more Röyksopp when I get the chance – but there’s nothing like hearing a familiar tune; especially one that you can sing along to.
Not that I find myself particularly comfortable singing along to I AM A BIRD NOW – ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS (2005) as there is something strangely other worldly about his singing voice. Actually, glancing back at the Q list as I write this I realise that other worldly is exactly how they describe the voice and I now wonder if that’s really my own opinion. Maybe I just mean wobbly. Or weird. But however odd sounding and off putting (at least initially) the vocals of Antony Hegarty were to me; I still found myself drawn to the songs. Somehow over time, the unique delivery has helped them to stand out more in my mind and some are truly things of beauty. The experience puts me in mind of some of the later torch song stuff by Marc Almond (post Soft Cell and recording as Marc and the Mambas), like those found on ‘Torment and Toreros‘ for example.
I’d heard of Antony and the Johnsons before the album, probably due to the large amount of press coverage received around the time of the Mercury Music prize, won by I Am A Bird Now in 2005. I also started dating (how quaint!) a girl who liked the album but had complained about not being able to find it anywhere to buy. A swift search later and I am the hero, delivering the elusive album to my damsel in distress ( courtesy of play.com as I recall – honestly, it wasn’t that hard to find). As I was still fairly new to the whole digital domain at the time, I took great delight in the fact that I could rip a copy of the album in next to no time and still gift the physical copy away. It allowed me to discover it in my own time too, thankfully, as it turned out as the relationship was not destined to last very long! However it was long enough to find myself in a discussion with a friend of my ex where she remarked that Antony sings rather like Elvis Presley. Sounds bizarre, but if you should happen to hear anything off this album just keep that in mind – you might be surprised to find yourself agreeing.
One of the joys of the album is the collaborations, with probably the best known track being ‘You Are My Sister’ featuring vocals from Boy George. It’s a lovely song, but if I had to choose just one to download from the album I’d go for ‘Fistful of Love’. I don’t know how it was recorded but it sounds live, and all the better for it.
And now to that singing along bit. Next up on the Q250 list was ‘EYE TO THE TELESCOPE – KT TUNSTALL (2004).
Straight in to ‘Other Side of the World’ and I love it; it’s a big song and a great introduction to the album that has loads of wonderful tunes. I was inspired to seek out this album for myself because I’d heard songs (‘Heal Over’ I think) performed at the Hertford Marquee Club (now sadly closed) on open mike night. If a song is good enough to make an impression when sung by someone else at an amateur night, that’s pretty impressive in my book.
It seems to be accepted wisdom that KT Tunstall came to wide aclaim when she stood in at the last minute on an edition of ‘Later with Jools Holland’ and performed Black Horse and the Cherry Tree. I’ve since since her perform live at the Roundhouse and it is great to see – she performs the whole song solo, but with use of a loop station to sample and repeat her own vocals and instrumentation; building the whole backing track from scratch while on the stage. But the first time I saw anyone do this (and I was slightly blown away then too) it was my good friend and business partner Rob Clydesdale at an acoustic night at the now refurbished and renamed Castle Hall in Hertford. I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen. Well, pretty good anyway. I doubt that this will be the last time I say this in my blogging life, but it can claim to be the first – you really should check out Rob Clydesdale on youtube (and of course at www.robclydesdale.co.uk). It’s mega dude.
Which is also a nice segway in to WHATEVER AND EVER AMEN – BEN FOLDS FIVE (1997) as this band are one of the few that I can recall Rob actually saying out loud that he rates, at least a little bit.
This truly is one of my all time favourites, and probably the first one on the list that I can honestly say I have listened to over and over again as a complete album many times since I bought it. It’s another that takes me back to a happy time – late 20’s, living in Rayners Lane near Harrow, hitting the pub and the curry house regularly, going to work and having a laugh at the same time as doing a job and earning reasonable cash. Ah! memories. Would I go back? Hmmm.
I remember going to see BF5 at the Shepherds Bush Empire around this time. It’s a guess, but I think it would have been late spring /early summer 1997, because I have a memory that it was the day before or after the emergency budget that was needed after Labour won the election that year. Having said that, it’s a miracle if I can remember anything from that night because the one thing I can say with absolute certainty is that I was very, very drunk. Great gig though, the mosh pit was mental and a had an odd punky vibe when you consider the band was piano, double bass and drums. This album has great songs (‘Kate’, ‘Brick’) – and great bits of songs too. Like the bit about 3 mins into ‘Fair’ when the middle 8 kicks in… ‘always breathing in; never breathing out’.
Moments like that just make me very happy.
'you're all dressed up like The Cure'