In music, as in all things, I take a generalist rather than a specialist approach. I enjoy exploring wide ranging styles of music and, as I think is probably evident from this playlist, tend to be drawn to certain consistent characteristics regardless of genre. Melancholy, (fairly) subtle eroticism and restful beauty all appeal.
This playlist will soundtrack the drives and train journeys for the shows I’m playing in March 2017 to launch my new album, A Coat Worth Wearing. I’ve included a bit of spoken word and some clips of more abstract soundtrack. I think BBC Radio 3 is the inspiration here. As I update the playlist I’ll probably swap these bits out though ‘cos they’ll maybe get a bit tiresome after a few listens. However, I’m certain that a fair amount of the music here is much more durable.
Alu Jon Jonki Jon – Fela Kuti
This is the opening track from Afrodisiac. Recorded at Abbey Road in 1973. I heard it again only recently and it had a big impact. I find it very difficult to make up-tempo music that I’m happy with and I admire this powerful, skillful and cleverly constructed track from one of 20th century music’s big hitters.
The Magic Hour – dEUS
I met Tom Barman of dEUS at a festival I played in Brussels. It is perhaps the only occasion where I have intruded on a personal hero to say thank you. I suppose this is partly because I’ve never had that many showbiz heroes and partly because I don’t get out much. Anyway, it was the typical awkward exchange. In truth, I think the musical hero-worship bit of me withered and died in my early twenties but I felt I owed it to my younger self to take the opportunity to thank the guy. I still enjoy digging out their nineties records from time to time. Cracking band.
Hares On The Mountain – Jonny Kearney & Lucy Farrell
I was visiting my mother when my brother called her from Edinburgh. After they chatted I took the phone for a catch up. We got to talking about music and he told me he had just heard something on the radio which he’d liked. I jumped on the computer and searched out the name of the act. They had a Myspace rather than a website and after playing the first track I sent them a message asking if they’d like to come and play in Sheffield. I heard nothing for ages and then Lucy got in touch and we sorted a show together at the Lantern Theatre – marking the start of a period where much of my favourite new music was made by people I knew. I’ve since listened to that first track countless times and it’s worn not a bit.
Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-Sharp Minor (ii) – S Rachmaninoff
I nicked the CD off my friend Kieron twenty years ago and have loved this ever since. For me there is an interesting distinction to be made between music once loved that seems to pale slightly over the years, becoming valuable mainly for its nostalgic properties, and music which seems to deepen and ripen as you age. This falls firmly into the latter camp. Glorious romantic melancholy.
Captain Stratton’s Fancy – Peter Warlock
Not sure where I heard this first but I’ve been aware of Peter Warlock since my friend wrote about him at university. Drinking and self-absorption have been my most persistent vices. I like this song because it pretends to separate the two, rendering booze a simple aid to jolly celebration. Not one I would sing myself for all sorts of reasons but a great rollicking tune all the same.
Beyond The Sea (La Mer) – Quintette de Hot Club de France
This melody trickles like a seam of mercury through my mind. It’ll interrupt a train of unrelated thought and as a regular matter of course I’ll find myself humming it as I go about my day. I don’t know how or when it got in but it may have been in childhood listening to my dad’s Saturday morning record selection which often included the Hot Club Quintette.
Slipin & Slidin – Little Richard
This is my favourite Rock & Roll track. I got switched back on to all this stuff after playing a coupe of shows with Duane Eddy. The first, at the 100 Club, was a bit weird as far as my gig went. It was the classic kidsupatdawn–dayjob-massiverushhourdrive–soundcheck-gig-exhaustedearlyhoursdrivehome combo and I was a bit frazzled by the time I was facing down a mixed crowd of hardcore fans, gobby industry nobheads and muso celebs. However, the home leg was in the backroom of the pub at the end of my road. They’d sold a hundred tickets at top whack in a matter of minutes and the place was rammed and sweaty. I was more settled (and mentally fresher) and could have a pint after I’d played and enjoy the show. Duane had brought this ballistic sax player over from LA and in the confined space I suddenly got a sense of what the early rock n roll gigs must have felt like. Anyway, I think that same feeling comes across from the unsurpassed changes in this Little Richard track. Any room of kids back then would have been helpless.
Synth – from “Oszi Almanach” & Csille – from “Kárhozat — Vig Mihály
Long time collaborator of Hungarian director Béla Tarr, his score for The Turin Horse got me interested. It’s not on Spotify though. I was watching Vertigo and there’s a scene where they’re briefly in a church and the church organ plays a descending line which reminded me of the Synth in the first of the two Mihály clips here.
Nix – Dawn of Midi
I was introduced to the Erased Tapes catalogue by a friend. It doesn’t all jump out at me, but this did. The whole record is incredible and should be heard start to finish.
Concierto de Aranjuez: Adajio – Miles Davis
I encountered the guitar and orchestra original of this first and then came to this later. I don’t think Rodrigo was that impressed but it works for me. I guess it depends on what kind of scenery you’re into.
This Is What It Is – Nina Nastasia
A friend of mine introduced me to Nina Nastasia mainly because he was impressed with Steve Albini’s production work on her album Dogs. This is from the follow-up record and I think it also sounds great. She’s a very interesting songwriter in my opinion, apparently dormant at the mo’.
Tinseltown In The Rain – The Blue Nile
There’s something surprising and intriguing about this song. Ostensibly it’s a simple pop song on the theme of love. But the marriage of music, lyric and vocal performance brings out the dark, urban eroticism. An adult and modern take on the old theme.
4 – Aphex Twin
I found the album from which this track is taken mismatched with a CD box that had been returned to me after I’d lent it out. I then included this track as a sample of Warp’s output in an introduction to Sheffield music that I used to deliver to international students at Sheffield Hallam University – they didn’t always know what to make of it. That said, of all the music here this is the track my young kids seem to like the best.
Fairest Isle – Henry Purcell
Love a bit of Purcell. For some reason I found myself listening to this on repeat as I walked through Sheffield in the June sunshine the morning after the EU referendum. To be clear, I don’t have a nationalist bone in my body. I’m not even patriotic. But I find human history inspiring. And human genius, also.
I Dream A Highway – Gillian Welch
The album from which this track is taken is woven into my life. I first encountered the songs live after being bought a front row ticket for a Gillian Welch show at the City Hall in Sheffield. She’d sold out the smaller memorial hall and so had been bumped up into the main auditorium. Only the stalls had been sold though, I think, so it was still an intimate set. Anyway, Gillian and her musical partner Dave Rawlings did their incredible thing for a couple of hours. I’d been resistant to blues elements in music when I was younger for some reason but this show began to break that prejudice down. We ended up with the full Welch / Rawlings back catalogue. She’s about my favourite contemporary lyricist. This song soundtracked the latter stages of pregnancy and the early infancy of our first son. We’d read somewhere that it might be reassuring for the kid – that there was evidence they could recognise a song in the way that they recognise their parents voices – so I sang away gently and hopefully. I’m not sure whether it worked on him, but it’s worked on me.
Byker Hill – The Young Tradition
A couple of years ago I was invited to sing at the centenary celebrations for Bob Copper at Cecil Sharp House. The invite was extended by Jon Boden & Fay Hield who had been approached by the organizers for a contribution. Jon and Fay had it in mind to perform songs from the Copper Family repertoire that had also been sung by 1960s English folk group The Young Tradition. The Young Tradition were a trio and I was drafted in to attempt to fill the substantial boots of (the fabulously-named) Royston Wood. I loved learning the songs and developed an appreciation for The Young Tradition’s catalogue. There isn’t much of it on Spotify yet sadly, but this is a storming live rendition of the well-worn collier’s song.
An Ending (Ascent) – Brian Eno
This reached me while I soaked in a bath midway though a year-long episode of pain and low mood stemming from a ruptured disc. It soothed me and I had a bit of a much-needed cry.
Coimbra – Amália Rodrigues
I discovered Fado from a CD of lectures by rock musician Nick Cave. He mentioned the concepts of saudade and duende and I believe mentioned Fado as an important reference point. I can’t check because I leant the CD to someone and they never gave it back. I haven’t penetrated very deep into the Fado genre but I do connect with some of it. ‘Coimbra’ is inspired by the Portugese city of that name and is here sung by the celebrated ‘Queen of Fado’ Amália Rodrigues. Frustratingly, this is a slightly different performance from the one that I know.
String Quartet 15 A Minor iii – LV Beethoven
I came to this via T S Eliot who reported his fascination with the late Beethoven quartets, and specifically the A Minor, in connection with the creation of his Four Quartets collection of poems. In both the music and the poems I know I’ve found something that I can get to know slowly over the years I have left. This recording of the Hungarian Végh Quartet is from the early ’50s and feels steeped in the weight of still-recent tragedy.
Old Churchyard – Waterson:Carthy
I’ve become very familiar with this song over the last three or four years but I remember when I first got this home from Record Collector and tried to understand what was going on with it. I desperately wanted to sing it but couldn’t carry off the final verse. So I rewrote it.
In The Fog I – Tim Hecker
This album lent an air of dystopian art-house cinema to my whole life for a few months a while back.
To Live Is To Fly – Townes van Zandt
I love the lyric to this song. I first heard it on a Cowboy Junkies cassette I bought from HMV in my teens. It remains the only song I have recorded for release that I didn’t write.
Carissa – Sun Kil Moon
I first heard Mark Kozelek in his Red House Painters incarnation. Bubble was a favourite of ours. But I’d stopped paying attention a while back. Then I happened upon Benji, the album that this track opens, and was instantly hooked. Essentially one man and a guitar with a fully-realised, instantly identifiable and pretty compelling voice.
The remaining tracks include some things I’ve come to very recently and like to hear in among the more familiar stuff. I’ll add to these and swap them out as I discover new things I like. Then there are two or three references to songwriters I was enamoured with in my formative years and who I now enjoy mainly for the nostalgic qualities they hold. I’ll swap these out from time to time too.