As I'm sure many of you have, I recently received an invitation from a good friend via facebook to post ten albums that have influenced or informed my musical tastes over the years. The deal was that you couldn't say anything about them or review them, you just let the sleeve do the talking and then pass on the invitation to another good friend.
Lock down comes with many rules, but this one had to be broken. And so some personal reflections on my ten albums of influence...
Harvest By Neil Young
In amongst the badly mixed paints and fractured half-pots of our school art room I heard the warn tones of this album. Our art teacher at the time (the mighty Mr Taylor) motivated our half attempts at art with tunes from a dying box amp or an occasional wander through the art room accompanied playing his own old battered guitar. This album dominated my weeks in the fifth year of secondary school. Sunday still doesn't seem right without hearing a track (or six).
Although initially unimpressed with Brett Anderson's frantic struts on TOTP one Thursday in March 1993, I soon grew to love the unworldly swirls and buzz saw guitars of this debut. I recall watching a BBC news documentary about lost kids and social issues with my parents at the time. It used almost the entire Suede album as its soundtrack. I was sold. My parents were less than enamoured (not quite James Last).
Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors by Fish
Having inherited the sounds of Marillion from an early age this album was destined to effect me in some way. I still have it on gatefold vinyl. The cover alone makes it a classic. It's songs are overly complicated stabs at pop-prog, but I still know most of the lyrics and find myself subconsciously singing the 'hits'. I think if anything I learnt that listening to music should be a serious business and that albums must be taken on as a long-term prospect- a relationship.
Unplugged by Neil Young
Gone are the soft country feedback twangs of Harvest (almost). This album came to me one evening via a BBC 2 repeat of MTV's flagging flagship show for people that just wanted to put a tape on. Looking like a discarded, rain soaked, hippy and clad in a 90s-tastic leather look jacket Neil channels something exceptional. After stopping traffic with solely a guitar he then launches near falsetto into twisted versions of his classics on a booming pump organ. This album made me listen to live albums more and differently. It told me lots about the spontaneity (or not) of songs and how they should sound on the tape- unmixed and unrefined.
Murder Ballads by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Aside from Sean Hughes' regular references and blatant T-shirt worship, I didn't really know much about King Ink in the early 90s. Unsure of the Kylie duet I boldly invested in the album from Lancaster's now long gone Ear 'Ere Records (Penny Street). I nearly bust my stereo listening to this album. A macabre jaunt into the world of murder through a storybook of lost fairy tales. It took me years to work out that the odd sounding instrument on 'Stagger Lee' was- it is Blixa Bargeld constantly screaming. From hence forth I have been a massive Bad Seeds fan and have enjoyed the journey- bright and pure.
The Happiest Man Alive by Babybird
Stephen Jones is one of the most underated artists I could name. His output is prolific and the albums solid. This album made me think seriously about the mechanics of recording and the glory of back bedroom audio production. In truth it is part of the origin story of the King of the Buttons empire (film rights available). It taught me that there are not really any limitations in creativity- whatever kind. You should follow that idea, however mad (It's also got some guilt free dance-a-longs on it).
Are you serious by Andrew Bird
In the summer of 2016 this open ended statement/question took on a whole new significance for me as the country declared splendid isolationism to a world crying out for solidarity. How Andrew Bird manages to construct and deconstruct in such a hip swinging manner I really don't know. And so, the language of soulful defiance beyond rhetoric became clearer to me.
Magpie by Stephen Fretwell
Drifting into a peaceful dream one night in my flatpack Swindon exec pad I recalled a late guest on Mark Radcliffe's holy BBC R2 show. A few days later this album appeared as a welcome leaving gift from an equally welcome comrade. It is the throw away, casual tone of the album that warrants endless listening. It is music that is of a moment, for a moment and that lives in the moment. Magpie is an opportunist of a record that reminds me that music is as vital as coffee.
56 by Elvis Presley
All religions have their deities. All dogs have their day. 1956 was the year in which the messiah jolted every notion of sensible blues and teen music with the lunging devil of rock'n'roll. EAP is captured without the fluff, without the burgers and with the full ammunition of a lost boy making the world of music his own. Cheap compilations and magazine freebies to the floor. This disk made me take Elvis seriously.
Gorgeous George by Edwyn Collins
The last of the go-getters. An energetic collection of songs that describes the passing of an age, the death of 'indie' and the nonsense of the big bucks festival. A 60's sound reheated to challenge the very revolutions that it inspired. Intelligent pop without involving Neil Tennant- It's possible?
Hear for yourself...