Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Yasmin lights up the world

This has been floating around for a couple of weeks now, but it's absolutely worth flagging up. Yasmin (DJ, model, minor league chart star) has teamed up with Shy FX (the godfather of drum'n'bass) to concoct a pounding, reggae-tinged club smash. You can almost guarantee it ripped open a few subwoofers at the Notting Hill Carnival this week, thanks to a rumbling, subterrestrial bassline and liberal sprinklings of the legendary Amen Break.

I particularly love Yasmin's understated vocals. Most singers would attack a lyric like "I just want to light up the world" with the force of Hurricane Irene. Yasmin takes the opposite approach, her sweet delivery soaring above the clattering percussion like a summer breeze.

Highly recommended.

Yasmin ft Shy FX - Light Up The World

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Remix corner: Gaga, Beyoncé and more...

There's not much in the way of exciting new music today, so here are a clutch of remixes that have been rocking my iPod in the last seven days:

1) Beyoncé - Girls (Captain Cuts Remix)
It's an obvious idea - cutting up two songs with the same name and stitching them back together - but it needs a skillful seamstress to make it work. On this occasion, the needlework is perfect. Captain Cuts teasingly undercuts Beyoncé's girl power anthem with a ridonkulous playground rhyme from the Beastie Boys' Licensed To Ill album.

Best of all, you can obtain a free & legal download of the mix on Neon Gold's blog.

Beyoncé - Girls (Captain Cuts Remix)

2) Young The Giant - My Body (Two Door Cinema Club Remix)
Young The Giant's performance of this song was bizarrely excised from the MTV VMA show when it aired in the UK. In truth, it wasn't a terrible decision. Unlike, say, the decision to cut all of Adele's acceptance speeches...

For the uninitiated, Young The Giant are what's laughingly termed "indie rock" in America and My Body is a song they gave to MTV's Teen Wolf TV series. The original mix is stodgy, joyless gristle, so Two Door Cinema Club's joyful remix is something of a miracle.

My Body (Two Door Cinema Club Remix) by youngthegiant

3) Marina and the Diamonds - Radioactive (Starsmith remix)
Marina's comeback hasn't exactly met with rave reviews, but I've had the chorus stuck in my head for days now. It might be something to do with this glamorous house retwizzle which (whisper it) might just be better than the original.

Marina and the Diamonds - Radioactive (Starsmith remix)

4) Lady Gaga - You & I (Metronomy remix)
There's a real sense that the Born This Way album has finally found its feet with the release of You & I. The Haus Of Gaga finally managed not to balls up a video with shonky editing or clumsy imagery. The appearance of Gaga as "Jo Calderone" at the VMAs overshadowed every other artist, bar the gestating ones. And the remixes that have been trickling out have all been surprising, revealing and artistic. Here, Metronomy take a similar approach to Wild Beasts, pushing the song into a minor key and framing Gaga's vocals with an unsettling electronic soundscape. Properly good.

Lady Gaga - You & I (Metronomy remix)

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

P-p-p-pick up a Penguin

Penguin Prison is the nom de plume of New York's Chris Glover. He's popped up on these pages several times thanks to his remix work for Marina, Passion Pit, Goldfrapp and, er, Jamiroquai.

The name comes from a "joke rap song" he recorded about George W Bush back in his pre-fame days. "We were freestyling," he told NY arts blog According to G, "and my friend Bob just said this line out of nowhere, 'he’s a penguin vision, he went to the penguin prison and assumed a penguin position.'"

Sadly, that particular song has been consigned to the dustbin and Chris has gone solo. He stomps the same ground as 80s alt-pop giants Talking Heads, but ditches the icy intellectual distance. Better still, he keeps one foot firmly planted in naff-ville. Several songs threaten to go completely Heaven 17. Which is amazing, obviously.

Chris has just uploaded live favourite Don't Fuck With My Money to SoundCloud. It's premium pop, from the OTT falsetto right down to the gratuitous orchestra hits.

Don't Fuck With My Money by Penguin Prison

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Ronika is in a spin

I have worn out the debut EP from Ronika (a couple of 1s and 0s are missing from the MP3). So the release of her new single, In The City, is perfectly timed.

Fans of Wiyoo and Forget Yourself will know what to expect - effortlessly cool retropop, with shades of Larry Levan, Tom Tom Club and Gwen Guthrie. Or, in Ronika's own words, "magnificent, over-cooked, doomed-joy sounds posing like a Grecian god in the neon glare of mundanity." But of course.

Like many of today's pop stars, Ronika is available on Twitter (@ohronikagirl). Amidst the inevitable retweets of obsequious compliments are some deliciously surreal witticisms.

:: "I may not have a big heart but at least i have a big nose." (24 August)
:: "Beyonce was unbelievable. Unbelonceyable." (27 June)
:: "i think my house is built on an ancient kebab burial site. i smell meat." (7 Feb)
:: "would like it if everyone treated ice-cream vans with the same respect as ambulances. move to the side of the road, their work is important." (2 May)
:: "i have drawn a lion on my little toe. and am having a toe jam." (27 June)

Ladies and gentleman, we have a new favourite pop star.

Now all I need to know is whether Ronika pronounced like "Veronica" or "Wrong sneaker". Answers on a bandage.

Ronika - In The City

You can download an MP3 of In The City FOR FREE from Soundcloud.
And you can read an entertaining interview with Ronika on Mike Atkinson's blog.

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Beyoncé torture porn

I don't know what terrible secrets she's hiding, but Beyoncé is being waterboarded in the new video for 1+1.

I jest of course. The water is a signifier of wanton lust, for Beyoncé's most lascivious single since Naughty Girl. Throughout the ballad, Ms Knowles repeatedly demands "make love to me" ("okay then", the world). Musically, 1+1 is unbelievably naff, crammed with overemoted power chords and grandstanding guitar solos, but somehow it all works. Here are some other key scenes from the video.

1) The knee-trembling striptease

2) The astonishing dual hair toss

3) The sweaty after-glow of filthy rumpo a bi-weekly spin class

4) The Great Suprendo

Watch the video in full below.

Beyoncé - 1+1

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Since You've Been Gone

Thanks for your patience while I've been off in Africa for a month... It was an incredible trip. Heartbreaking and breathtaking. Beautiful and desolate. As you can see above, the school we visited in the remote village of Kongwa was bursting with exuberance despite the shortcomings in food and finance and elementary learning materials. Hopefully we'll be back before long.

So, what have I missed? A quick scan of my favourite internet websites suggests the music industry didn't take August off for once... Here's the best stuff I've seen so far.

The gender-bending video for Yoü & I is what experts would term a "return to form" for pop's premier pixel pervert. A country and western version of Frankenstein's Bride, it continues Gaga's theme of beauty and decay. As well as dressing as a slack-jawed yokel, she poses in a fabulous hat, transforms into a mermaid in a bathtub and a sets up a terriffic reverse dolly shot at 3'30". Well done.

Lady Gaga - Yoü & I

The altogether unexpected Wild Beasts remix is pretty special, too.

Florence and Marina and the Machine and the Diamonds are back to trouble your eardrums. Hooray!

Marina has added new layers of confusing nomenclature by channelling her new songs through Electra Heart. Her bleach blonde heroine is not an alter ego but a character in a modern Greek tragedy, as she explained to Popjustice. The new single is called Radioactive, which is an excellent song masquerading as a moronic radio hit. And that's the really clever bit.

Marina And The Diamonds - Radioactive

Marina released another Electra Heart video last week, called Fear And Loathing. It acts as a scene-setter for the single and is, I suspect, the better song.

Florence Welch, meanwhile, unveiled the first track from the follow-up to her multi-million-seller Lungs on Tuesday. It's something of a slow burner, but the final minute is the best psychedelic rock wig-out you'll hear this side of Christmas. The video also reveals Florence's hitherto unacknowledged debt to Miranda Hart's choreography.

Floral dancing

Florence And The Machine - What The Water Gave Me


Gary Lightbody shows off his comedy chops in the video for Called Out In The Dark - which also stars Jack "Pirates Of The Caribbean" Davenport. The escalation of the storyline is beautifully done, and the song's not bad either.

Snow Patrol - Called Out In The Dark

*Jaw drops*

Anne Hathaway - Paparazzi rap

Bombay Bicycle Club unexpectedly produce the indie anthem of the summer. All we need now is a summer.

Bombay Bicycle Club - Shuffle

Beat Of My Drum didn't quite set the charts on fire. In fact, it barely produced enough heat to warm a crumpet. That didn't stop it being brilliant, though. Nicola's follow-up, Lucky Day, is more obviously radio friendly but a much weaker song. Radio 1 have passed on it, and mrsdiscopop described it as "Kylie crossed with Cilla Black". Oh dear.

Nicola Roberts - Lucky Day

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sound Bank: 16) Samson

Samson is an odd choice to end this series, because I'm not panting and gasping "this song CHANGED my LIFE" at you. I don't link it inextricably with a life-changing event or personal triumph. It is just a song I like about a biblical strongman and his hairdresser.

Regina Spektor's Begin To Hope is a bit like that. Her lyrics are obtuse, quirky, funny (the word I'm desperately trying to avoid here is crazy). They're populated by Orca Whales and tangerines. But somehow they resonate like a tuning fork on my brain.

Try this and see if it does the same to you. "This is how it works / It feels a little worse / Than when we drove our hearse / Right through that screaming crowd." I have literally no idea what careening through a panicked mob of humanity in a funeral car feels like, or even why a writer would ever expect me to. But I simply get what's going on. I've inferred everything there is to know about the protagonist and her relationship from those four lines of exposition. What's more, I suspect my interpretation is 100% different, but equally valid, to yours - and that is the secret of Regina Spektor's geniusnessnessence.

When Begin To Hope came out in 2006, it brought out my inner Elton John. I bought the album two dozen times, pressing it firmly into the hands of bewildered friends and family with the same wild-eyed promise: "You are going to LOVE THIS RECORD!!".

They all came back and thanked me. Maybe you will,too.

Regina Spektor - Samson

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sound Bank: 15) Clapping

Clapping: We do it to encourage athletes, to mock people who have just fallen over on a banana skin and to congratulate musicians who have successfully made it to the end of one of their own songs without their brain melting. It is one of the most versatile noises you can produce by slapping bits of your own body together.

Here is a list of songs that are unquestionably better because of the hand clap:

1) We Will Rock You
2) Oh Mickey
3) The Theme From "Friends"
4) Hey Ya!
5) If You're Happy And You Know It

I could go on... The clap is the ultimate accessory to any piece of music. Imagine how much more interesting classical music would be if you could clap to it. The handclap should be used gratuitously and often. Here is a song to remind you what to do.

The Meters - HandClapping Song

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Sound Bank: 14) 30 Rock Title Sequence

Every relationship has weird quirks. Tim Burton and Helena-Bonham Carter live in adjacent houses connected by a medieval dungeon. Woody Allen adopted a girl so he could marry her. Ozzy Osbourne "hilariously" tried to murder Sharon with a pillow.

Compared to that freak show, Kaye and I are supernaturally boring. But we do have one unbreakable rule: During the opening titles to 30 Rock, I am obliged to replicate the jungle drums on Kaye's back, pluck the descending double bass line down her arm and end the sequence with a huge flourish, EG a gentle tweak to the nose or a double boob grope. Once, and I swear this was an accident, it was a massive smack across the earhole. That didn't go down well at all.

Fact: If we fail to do this, the episode won't be any good.

30 Rock Theme

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sound Bank: 13) Amadeus The Wonderdog

My dream job would be to work at Pixar. The closest I've got is writing the theme tune to a "radio cartoon" about a crime-fighting dog called Amadeus. It didn't get commissioned.

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sound Bank: 12) Snow White

"You could write songs for Kylie," said the A&R man at Go! Discs.

He didn't need to spell out that this wasn't a compliment. Kylie was in the dumper, and we both knew it. This was the dark period between 'sex Kylie' and 'indie Kylie'. I believe official biographers refer to this era as 'shit Kylie'.

My dreams of being a pop svengali vanished almost overnight. In retrospect, I didn't make a very big fuss about it. I just indulged in a weird fantasy about eating an entire box of Quality Street in one go. Let me tell you, that gave me the worst hangover I've ever had. Kids: Don't Do Chocolates.

Later, and quite by accident, I fell into writing jingles. It all started with the theme for the BBC's Hausa language news service -- they arrived in the office one day with a pile of CDs and asked me to find a suitable piece of music for their new magazine programme. I, in a rare moment of resourcefulness, went home and dashed off a piece of music that was in no way inspired by the theme to John Craven's News Round. That demo ended up on air for the next 10 years.

Over the years, I've written music for TV shows, documentaries and sportscasts. But I really found my muse when I was commissioned to create the music for a series of kids' audio books. Suddenly, all those hours playing computer games and watching cartoons paid off (in your face, tertiary education!)

The first song I wrote for the project is still my favourite. With unrestrained artistic licence, I called it Snow White Theme. Here it is.

Sadly, the audio books appear to be out of print but you can hear more of my jingles on the (badly neglected) Discopop Poductions website.

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sound Bank: 11) Rhythm Nation

When you're a teenager EVERYTHING takes on a melodramatic air of BRUTAL IMPORTANCE. We're out of orange juice? OH, WHY IS THE UNIVERSE AGAINST ME? People don't see the real me, they just see this HUGE ZIT. My feelings cannot be adequately expressed IN LOWER CASE TYPE.

I was not immune to this intensity of emotion. When I broke up with my first girlfriend, I listened to Gloria Estefan's Anything For You every day for three months. We'd been together a fortnight.

But the album I really, really went batshit mental for was Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814. I wasn't so fussed about the po-faced sermonising and social commentary ("Illiteracy? No!"). No, it was all about Janet's decree "Get the point? Good, let's dance."

By God, that album is funky. Rhythm Nation introduced me to the supple grooves of Sly & The Family Stone. I became a better, more versatile drummer through trying to replicate the industrial grind of State Of The World. Miss You Much, one of the album's record-breaking seven Top Five US singles, is a monument of pop futurism. The groove is so sparse, and the drums so monumentally huge that it literally forces your limbs to dance across the living room, one beat at a time.

And that's just Side A.

I know that album inside out. Every edit, every ad lib, every alternate take. 22 years later, I still find fresh new sounds buried deep in the mix. Radiohead have never recorded something so layered, so intricate.

OK, Janet's voice is flimsy. And I agree, they went a little overboard with the sampler on Alright. Yes, Livin' In A World (They Didn't Make) is so mawkishly sentimental about children that Janet's brother would have dismissed it as "a bit much".

But the brilliance of this album can be summed up in one brief moment of production genius. At the climax of Love Will Never Do (Without You) Janet holds a series of ascending notes, reaching higher and higher until, suddenly, you realise the noise has stopped being her voice and you're listening to Herb Alpert's muted brass trumpet. I've listened to it thousands of times, and I still can't hear the moment where the two soundwaves embrace and separate. It's my favourite part of any pop song ever.

Janet Jackson - Love Will Never Do (Without You)

(The trumpet bit starts at round 5'15")

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sound Bank: 10) Talking to people for a living

Regular readers will know that I've just finished working at BBC 6 Music. Regular readers may also have wondered how my barely disguised love of girl pop fitted at the country's best alternative music station.

The answer is that it didn't. But my tastes are broad enough to appreciate Wild Beasts and Wye Oak alongside Girls Aloud and Katy Perry. And, contrary to popular belief, 6 Music is catholic enough to play Aloe Blacc and Lykke Li alongside The National. We're both pretty awesome like that.

There were many highlights during my all-too-brief sojourn in the news team. Comparing Beyoncé to a griffin live on air; getting Alison Goldfrapp to talk about her neighbour's furry front bottom; Drawing a cock and balls on a picture of Glasvegas, then absent-mindedly leaving it on the desk when they came in for an interview. (Sony were a little annoyed about that, so we printed the picture onto t-shirts and wore them to the band's show at Glastonbury).

I did some things I was proud of, too - like this 'walk-and-talk' tour of Noah And The Whale's rehearsal studio, back in January.

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Sound Bank: 9b) A proper love song

I proposed to Kaye after Prince played this at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2002.

"Holding someone is truly believing there's joy in repetition". It's true. I checked.

08 - Joy in repetition

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

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Sound Bank: 9a) A love song

Simply put, this is the most meaningful, personal and searingly honest song about courtship and romantic love that has ever been recorded. And it's just 15 seconds long. Top that, "The Beatles".

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Sound Bank: 8) An Air Raid Siren

"The troubles". I'm intrigued by that phrase. "The troubles". It sounds so mundane, doesn't it? Ireland was torn apart by 30 years of violent, bloody murder and we christened it "the troubles", like a girl trying to get out of PE.

"I'm sorry miss [*whispers*] it's the troubles".

I was born right at the beginning of the sectarian violence but, sequestered in the middle class suburbs, I never witnessed or suffered any of the paramilitaries' worst atrocities. I suspect this is true for people in places like Syria now. If you don't go to the wrong part of town, you can largely pretend its not happening...

So, for me, the troubles were largely personified by the air raid siren.

The klaxons were a left over, I presume, from the Blitz. When the IRA (or whoever was taking their turn at being chief murderer for the day) phoned in a bomb threat late at night, they would screech out like baying wolves from the top of Cave Hill. The haunting, dual-tone horns called the emergency services from their beds, and woke the rest of us from ours. There we would lie, waiting in anticipation of an explosive sonic boom, hoping tomorrow's headlines wouldn't tell of another tragedy.

If I'm honest, it all seemed unreal. A strange story that didn't fit in with my experience of life as a parade of cartoons, Tayto crisps and ice skating every Saturday morning. The terror only struck home once, when a car bomb was planted yards away from my friend's house.

There was no warning siren that night - Peter woke up with a jagged lightning-bolt of car bonnet planted in the floor, two feet from the side of his bed. It was intended for the judge who lived on the other side of the street. A couple of inches to the side, and it would have taken off his arm.

Looking back, it's still overwhelming that common sense prevailed in Belfast. The people - the majority of people - who abhorred the violence found their voice and stuck, ironically, to their guns. Belfast is a vibrant, cultured city again. I truly hope this sound never rings out across the night sky again.

British Air Raid Sirens

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sound Bank: 7) World Service Call Signs

Like most people who've lived in the UK all their lives, I didn't know that the BBC broadcasts news, 24 hours a day, to the rest of the world in 52 separate languages. That all changed in 1997 when, fresh out of University, I joined the World Service as a sound engineer. I was suddenly responsible for mixing and playing out the reports, outside broadcasts, interviews, stings, music beds and documentaries in eight language: Hausa, Somali, Kinyarwanadan, French, Portuguese, Arabic, Swahili and Mandarin.

I could speak one dialect: English. In a really broad "Ulster says NO!" accent.

Luckily, the BBC had developed an intricate system of sign language, frantic pointing and flashing lights operated by foot pedals (no, really) that allowed idiotbrain monolinguists like me to communicate with the producers and journalists in the language sections. It also turned out I could follow scripts phonetically, even if I had no earthly clue what they were on about.

There were pitfalls, of course. I was horrified to be parachuted on to the Thai language breakfast show after another sound engineer called in sick. Every time I stopped playing a tape and opened the microphones, one of the presenters would say "crap". I sweated through the broadcast, increasingly worried I was causing a major diplomatic on the other side of the globe. I slunk back to the office and admitted my poor performance to the boss, who literally fell off his seat laughing. It was, in a time before the phrase was invented, a proper ROFL.

Apparently, Thai has a 'vocalised full stop', and the presenters were saying 'krap' to signify the end of a report. If I'd had a female presenter, she'd have said "ka" instead, and the whole sorry situation could have been avoided.

However, the one lasting legacy of my exposure to all these cultures is that I can say "London calling, this is the BBC" in dozens of languages. It's not much of a party trick, but it's all I've got.

Here's how some of the programmes used to sound in my day. Click through to the Souncloud page to learn which language is which.

Vintage World Service Idents (mix) by mrdiscopop

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sound Bank: 6) Daydream Believer

Daydream Believer is quite possibly the perfect pop song - but it has a very odd intro. "What number is this, Chip?" inquires tiny Liverpudlian dreamboat Davy Jones. "7-A" comes the reply. Not for nothing does the chorus ask "what can it mean?"

7-A was, in fact, the number of takes Davy had to record before the song was considered complete. It might not seem like a lot now, but in 1967 it was an eternity. "You can tell from the vocal that I was pissed off," Jones wrote in the official Monkees biography 20 years later.

You can't, really. Either through fatigue or boredom, Jones lends an air of wistfulness to the dainty melody. It's the song's Mona Lisa smile - an indescribable something that takes it from being a great performance to a transcendent one. Many people have tried to recreate it (more than 50, apparently) but none have succeeded.

This isn't just one of my favourite songs, though. It's the one my dad, a strait-laced Professor of medicine who routinely performs kidney transplants, will sing without provocation or hesitation any time he is in close proximity to a microphone.

You can't fault his taste.

The Monkees - Daydream Believer

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Sound Bank: 5) Doreen and Mavis

In 1992, I blagged my way into presenting a radio programme.

The newly-established Belfast Community Radio had no money and no audience. It barely had any CDs or presenters. But it was on the air, and it needed staff, so I'd been coming in at weekends and answering the phones. Sooner or later, I was given access codes to the building - and that's when I hatched my diabolical plan.

One quiet Thursday night, I sneaked into the building with Neil Archibald, my lab partner in A-Level biology. We commandeered the off-air-studio and recorded a demo tape, live onto cassette. Goodness knows what it must have sounded like, but I remember two things: First, we started it with INXS's New Sensation which, after careful consideration, we had decided was the most perfect radio record of all time. Second, we were especially proud of a sketch that ended with both of us shouting "there's plenty of room around the crotch" (I have no context for this punchline any more).

Amazingly, station management comissioned a show. I think this was largely due to the fact that we were willing to do it for free but who cared? We had two hours of radio a week, and we could do what we wanted with it!

The programme was given a title, "The Near Side" (ripped off from Gary Larson in a moment of panic) and we hit the airwaves, full of ideas and completely lacking in experience.

To listeners, the show must have been  a complete mystery. We broke all the sacred rules of radio - talking over each other, playing b-sides, making stupid in-jokes. And the playlist was a mess. I was firmly rooted in planet pop, picking out top 10 hits by George Michael and Madonna. Neil, who was basically the coolest person I knew, would bring along L7 or The Charlatans. We never quite found a happy ground, but we never fell out over it, either.

The Near Side lasted about a year - but I continued to work for BCR in the school, and then university, holidays. Which is where today's soundclip comes in.

By the second year of uni, I was President of the student radio society and making ridiculous "zoo"-style programmes (this was the era of The Big Breakfast and Chris Evans, so we thought we were achingly cool). Again, I was surrounded by infinitely more talented people... Andrew Carter and Steven Finer were the comedic geniuses, whereas I held the show together technically - making sure that the levels were correct and that we went to the news at the right time.

Basically, I was Lauren Laverne on 10 O'Clock Live.

One of Andrew and Steve's comedy segments saw them assuming the voice of two old hags called Doreen and Mavis and perform an impromptu, unscripted link. To the casual listener, it must have sounded like they'd ripped off Monty Python's Pepperpot ladies - but they swore on their mother's lives that they'd never seen or heard Python... despite attending Cambridge and, in Andrew's case, auditioning for Footlights.

To this day, those sketches make me laugh milk out my nose. Even if I haven't been drinking milk. I should get that checked by a doctor.

Here's one of their finer moments.

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Sound Bank: 4) 16kHz tone

When I was 17, I developed a strange ringing noise in my ears. You'll be familiar with it if you've ever been to a gig. I was familiar with it, too. I heard it every time I finished playing drums in the spare room of my parents' house. After about 30 minutes, it would fade and I'd go back to life as normal.

Except this time it didn't fade. 20 years later, it's still there. In fact, I've had tinnitus longer than I ever lived without it.

I won't bang on about the details -- I wrote a very involved blog post about it in October 2009 if you want to know more. But if I'm listing the 15 sounds that made me who I am, this one goes right to the top.

Tests have shown that my hearing dips at 16 kHz, and that is roughly the frequency of the ringing I hear every night when I go to sleep. I'm lucky - it doesn't bother me at any other time, and I can still hear people's voices above it. Others don't have that luxury.

If you want to know what it's like, imagine this noise running constantly in the background.

You can learn ignore the ringing eventually, but there's always a quiet point in the day when you think "oh, there it is" and your heart sinks a little.

If you don't suffer from tinnitus already, I implore you to turn your headphones down and wear earplugs at gigs. There's no recovery back once your ears are damaged.

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Sound Bank: 3) Bucks Fizz

Look, I never said this series was going to portray me as an infallible baraometer of musical taste. My first 15 years of pop fandom went roughly like this:

1976-1981: Abba
1981-1986: Bucks Fizz
1986-1989: Five Star

In retrospect, I think the quality threshold is on a steep downward spiral from the very beginning -- although I maintain that Five Star's first album (the one Paul Hardcastle produced) stands the test of time better than other pop'n'r'n'b records of the era... Love Take Over is due a revival. System Addict, less so.

Anyway, Bucks Fizz get to be one of the "sounds of my life" entries, as they were the first group I really fixated on. I joined the fan club, I traced the band logo onto my school jotter, I sent them "get well soon" cards after that horrific coach crash in Newcastle. What's more I stuck with them long after they ceased to be a viable chart act... even when they recorded a song written for them by Meatloaf. It wasn't pretty.

But back at the beginning they had some good tunes... The multi-track harmonies on My Camera Never Lies are pretty impressive for a manufactured pop act, for example. But I'm going to embed this video for Can't Stand The Heat instead. I can vividly remember the kitchen-cloth costumes Jay and Cheryl wore. This episode of Crackerjack may mark the moment I first truly understood the difference between a man and a woman.

Bucks Fizz - Can't Stand The Heat

Years later, I interviewed Bucks Fizz as an apertif before covering the Eurovision Song Contest (two childhood dreams fulfilled in one). Unlike modern pop stars, they were delightfully off-script and completely 100% bonkers. Mike Nolan, in particular, took great joy in making awful puns about trousers. He also tried to get me to admit that, as a child, I would kiss my posters of Cheryl Baker goodnight. I went so red that I could have camoflaged myself against a London bus.

The interview - thankfully minus that segment - is here.

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sound Bank: 2) Thames TV jingle

I might be a BBC man now, but as a child it was ITV all the way. This was largely due to the anarchism of programmes like Tiswas and The Sooty Show (to a six-year-old, shooting a water pistol at a grown adult with a beard is the ultimate expression of violent, uncurbed anarchy). But I also found myself drawn to Benny Hill, The Goodies, Danger Mouse and Rainbow.

Most importantly of all, ITV taught me about jingles. The Thames TV theme - eight notes in five seconds - is embedded as deep in my memory as my own mother's name. When I am in the psychiatric ward, eating my own poo, I will be doing so to the constant soundtrack of the Salute To Thames. And I will enjoy it. (Well, maybe not the bit with the poo, but there's bound to be a sexy young nurse I can impress with my knowledge of regional television idents of the 70 and early 80s, right?)

As someone who would later go on to write TV themes as an actual, paid job (more of which later), the discovery of the Thames jingle was a watershed moment. Or should that be water pistol moment?

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sound Bank: 1) The Glissando

Is there more a thrilling way to start a song than this?


The answer, in case you're struggling, is NO. The first record I ever bought was Abba's Dancing Queen, the second was The Boomtown Rats' I Don't Like Mondays. Both of them start with a man (let's assume it's a man) running his finger from the very top of a piano keyboard to the very bottom. In essence, it's what any child would do when confronted with a piano. Place your hand at shoulder height, plonk your pudgy fingers on C7, run to the other end of the room making as loud a noise as possible, laugh so hard the blood drains from your head, repeat. That's why it sounds so joyous, and that's why it works perfectly at the start of a song.

DANGER: Do not start a piece of music with a glissando unless you are capable of matching that breath-taking swan dive down the octaves in the rest of the song.

Examples of tracks that achieve this include: The Jackson 5's I Want You Back.
Examples of songs that do not achieve this are: Anything that isn't The Jackson 5's I Want You Back.

Sound Bank is a series of blog posts I'm running in August while I'm on holiday. If you want to know more about it, there's an explanation on this page. Normal pop blog service will be resumed around 25th August

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Sound Bank: Introduction

Sad news: The blog is going to be out of action for three weeks while I set off for Africa with my father-in-law, who grew up and went to school in Tanzania. "Which one is Tanzania," you ask?

We'll be visiting the boarding school he attended (which is now teaching local children) to do a bit of handiwork, and see a few gnu. Did you know the gnu was just a type of wildebeest? Me neither, until I looked it up on Wikipedia just now. Amazing.

Obviously, the musical landscape is going to change BEYOND RECOGNITION while I'm away. The multi-million sales of Cher Lloyd's debut single will single-handedly revive the fortunes of HMV, Muse will end their set at Reading and Leeds by pulling off their humanoid masks to reveal lizard faces, and Taio Cruz will revert to his birth name, Simon Archibald Lisa Lisa D'Octopus.

While I will be unable to cover these stories from Africa, I thought I'd leave you with something - and that something is the pretentiously-named "Sound Bank": Sixteen posts, each talking about a sound that has in one way or another defined my life. They won't all be songs - although some of them will undoubtedly be major tunes. It runs the risk of being terribly self-involved, but I promise to do some jokes, too.

See you at the end of August!

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Will Young provokes thoughtful reflection

Will Young's new song is called Jealousy and, if you've been paying attention, you'll know I think it is very good.

But you shouldn't just take my word for it. People have been responding to Jealousy "in their thousands" thanks to the internet and their minds.

Here, for example, is what Jayonthedot had to say on Will's YouTube channel.

"Just want to say thankyou will young. I was going to get back with my boyfreind who cheated on me 3 times. I used to be so jealous and depressed the amount of times i would stay awake thinking why am i not good enough, This song brang back all of those feelings and made me realise do i really want to go through all that again? Thankfully i will not be im speaking to a really nice guy and were going on a date tommorow. If it wasnt for you id be in that mess again. Beautiful song. Thanks x"

"Brang back" is a beautifully evocative phrase, I think we can all agree.

Over on the Buzzjack forum, DanJohn3 makes a succinct, but erudite comment.

"What I love about this (as I hoped/expected from Will). It's dance music, but it's dance music with an emotional connotation. He's not trying to cater to a younger more urban~ audience."

Finally, Robot Pigeon reviews the video.

"Did anyone else think he was going to turn into a swan at the end, and stab the man with a piece of broken mirror, and then find out it was all in his mind, and actually he was the other man, and still a swan, and then climb onto a high piece of scenery and fall backwards and die and still be a swan, maybe, no not actually she was mad. What? Oh, that was Black Swan."

Me? I'm just excited to discover that Marina "and the Diamonds" has a writing credit on this track. Now we know what one of her songs would sound like without the constant hiccupping - IE Amazing.

Will Young - Jealousy

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Lykke Li - Jerome (video)

We've been watching Danish crime drama The Killing over the last couple of weeks. A 20-part series, focussing on a solitary murder investigation, it's both gripping and macabre. But we tend to spoil the lugubrious tension by shouting "turn the fucking lights on" at the TV every five minutes. Even the daytime scenes are shot in locations where, seemingly, light cannot penetrate. On the odd occasion chief inspector Sarah Lund finds herself in a room with a window, the set designers have covered it up with newspaper. On the plus side, the dark, shadowy setting makes it really easy to read the subtitles.

I'm beginning to think this aversion to daylight might be some sort of Scandanavian affliction. Here's the latest video from Lykke Li - an acoustic take of album track Jerome, shot in black and white in a room with no discernible illumination. Oddly unsettling.

Lykke Li - Jerome

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Monday, August 1, 2011

A clip of Nicola Roberts' new single

Nicola Roberts is following up Beat Of My Drum with Lucky Day. She has celebrated this fact by going to the laundrette and growing orange magnolias out of her busom. No wonder she looks so happy.

Nicola Roberts - Lucky Day (teaser)

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Wolfette? You bet!

Here is Wolfette, a singer I've been quietly following (ie a singer I've largely forgotten to write about) for quite some time.

According to her official biography, she is "part English rose, part fiery Thai, and a distant relative of Virginia Woolf". And in the rich pantheon of female popstars named after wild animals, she has earned the following ranking:

Her new single, Different Story, is out today and if you have a shred of human decency, you will buy it instead of Cher Lloyd's.

Wolfette - Different Story

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