Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Top Twenty Albums of 2011

Here's my top twenty albums of 2011. The top album of the year is The Wild Swans - 'The Coldest Winter In A Hundred Years', but the other nineteen are pretty good too.

Look forward to receiving your lists and recommendations.

1. The Wild Swans - The Coldest Winter In A Hundred Years

2. Wild Beasts - Smother

3. John Foxx & the Maths - Interplay

4. Bon Iver - Bon Iver

5. The Horrors - Skying

6. Wire - Red Barked Tree

7. Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know

8. The Decemberists - The King Is Dead

9. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

10. Kate Bush - 50 Words For Snow

11. Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes

12. The Unthanks - Last

13. Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys

14. TV on the Radio - Nine Types Of Light

15. Metronomy - The English Riviera

16. Battles - Gloss Drop

17. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

18. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo

19. P J Harvey - Let England Shake

20. Florence + The Machine - Ceremonials

All the albums are available to preview or purchase from the Amazon widget on the right hand panel of this site.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Best Album of 2011

The Wild Swans tribute to drummer Pete de Freitas who died in a motorbike accident 22 years ago.

My top album of 2011 is The Wild Swans - 'The Coldest Winter In A Hundred Years'.
I only discovered this brilliant album in October but I've not stopped playing it ever since. I've been a fan of the Wild Swans since the 1980's (Revolutionary Spirit being a personal favourite) but I had thought their moment had passed until this latest release.

Original member and lead singer Paul Simpson has gone through numerous line-ups which have included many famous Liverpudlians such as Pete de Freitas (Echo and the Bunnymen), Ian Broudie (Lightning Seeds), Chris Sharrock and Ian McNabb (Icicle Works).

However, the latest incarnation which includes Ricky Rene Maymi (Brian Jonestown Massacre), Les Pattinson (Echo and the Bunnymen), Mike Mooney (Julian Cope/Spiritualized), and Steve Beswick (Slipstream) have come up with a masterpiece.

This is an epic album with soaring tunes and evocative lyrics, it is music to be savoured.
It is the album The Wild Swans always threatened to make in the 80's and 90's but have only now got around to making.

'The Coldest Winter in A Hundred Years' has had limited publicity and has been criminally neglected by the critics, but it is deserving of your attention. Buy the CD or download a copy now.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Another year another open neck shirt

Some of the usual suspects at the Mark Addy on Friday 8th July 2011

The winter Open Neck Shirt will be convening at Mr Thomas's Chop House at 1pm on Friday 11th November.

A little history

Mr Thomas’s Chop House is described by The New York Times as “probably Manchester’s most venerable pub”.

The site on Cross Street was originally occupied by a Georgian Town House, hence its long, slim shape. Mr Thomas Studd, who also gave his name to the premises, first opened it as a public house and restaurant in 1870.

Like the coffee house, the alehouse, the boarding house and others, the chophouse is a British institution dating back to the origins of modern commercial trading in the sixteenth century.

Chop houses

The Chop houses were originally places where businessmen dined and conducted their affairs over hearty plates of traditionally cooked meats, frequently grilled and washed down with fine wines or well-kept local beers.

The architect Robert Walker was commissioned to rebuild and extend the original premises and this version of Mr Thomas’s was completed in 1901.

It is a cast iron frame building - one of the first in Manchester. The exterior walls are a superb mixture of decorative terracotta blocks and Accrington brick. The terracotta was hand cast and delivered to the site hollow. It was then filled with concrete for extra strength and fabricated over the frame on site. The building was given Grade II listed status by English heritage for its architectural merit and historical importance in the city.

The interior remains almost completely original. The arches and Victorian tiling are Mr Thomas’s principal distinguishing features. These have been recently cleaned and restored to reveal the beauty and skill of the original craftsmanship. The intense green lustre of the darker arch tiles is something rarely seen in more modern work.

Since Thomas Studd there have been 29 further innkeepers. Their names are listed in the back room as an historical record and as a way of remembering their contribution to the life of the city centre. Tom’s has certainly had its ups and downs over the last century, but it remains a local institution and one of the jewels in Manchester’s crown.

As well as providing some hearty food Mr Thomas's have a range of real ales available usually including Black Sheep, Holt's and Robinsons.

I'm looking forward to revisiting Mr Thomas's, meeting old friends and sampling the food and drink on offer.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Man/machine returns - John Foxx and the Maths on tour

Electronic music pioneer John Foxx has returned to form with a superb new album 'Interplay'.
Now joined by synthesizer connoisseur Benge, Hannah Peel and Serafina Steer, plus other lumineries of the current electronic scene, Foxx has produced his best work since the days of early Ultravox.

John Foxx and the Maths are a modern collaboration made in heaven or should that be in a synthesizer workshop? Interplay is an electronic album to saviour and which befits our alienated times. There is no doubt that this latest album is on a par with the best music produced by seminal Kraftwerk.

The band will be touring the UK in October. Don't miss this opportunity to to see one of the great innovators of electronic music.

Tour dates

Thursday the 13th of October, 2011 – Leamington Spa Assembly Hall, Spencer Street, Leamington Spa Warwickshire CV31 3NF
 Telephone : 01926 523 001, Web :

Thursday the 20th of October, 2011 – Bristol Thekla, The Grove, East Mud Dock, Bristol BS1 4RB 
Telephone : 0117 929 3301 (venue) / 0845 413 4444 (tickets), Web :

Friday the 21st of October, 2011 – Manchester Academy 4, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PR
 Telephone : 0161 275 2930, Web :

Saturday the 22nd of October, 2011 – Liverpool Stanley Theatre, 160 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool L3 5TR 
Telephone : 0151 794 6868, Web :

Sunday the 23rd of October, 2011 – Glasgow Arches, 253 Argyle Street, Glasgow G2 8DL Telephone : 0141 565 1000, Web :

Monday the 24th of October, 2011 – York Duchess, Stonebow House, York YO1 7NP
 Telephone : 01904 641 413, Web :

Tuesday the 25th of October, 2011 – London XOYO, 32-37 Cowper Street, London EC2A 4AP
 Telephone : (off-site) 0207 729 5959, Web :

Thursday the 27th of October, 2011 – London XOYO, 32-37 Cowper Street, London EC2A 4AP
 Telephone : (off-site) 0207 729 5959, Web :

Friday the 28th of October, 2011 – Holmfirth Picturedrome, Market Walk, Holmfirth, West Yorkshire HD9 7DA
 Telephone : 01484 689 759, Web :

Monday, July 04, 2011

Summer Open Neck Shirt 2011 at the Mark Addy

The Mark Addy, Salford

This summer's Open Neck Shirt will be convening at the Mark Addy, Salford on Friday 8th July at 1pm. 

Just across the border from sunny Manchester, the Mark Addy is now run by Head Chef Robert Owen Brown who has established a reputation for good quality food while also serving an excellent range of draught beers including some from local micro-breweries.

The Mark Addy was recently reviewed by Observer/Guardian critic Jay Rayner who gave the venue an excellent write-up. You can read the review here.  

The Mark Addy originally opened in 1981 (yes we were there soon after) is named after a local hero who died in 1890. He was famous for rescuing 51 people from the then treacherous waters of the River Irwell and he is the only civilian to have received the Albert Medal (Victoria Cross) from Queen Victoria. 

The site was originally a boat passengers waiting room for the new Bailey landing stage from where a regular packet boat service was in operation from 1807. 

After completion of extensive renovation the Mark Addy re-opened on the 28th October 2009.  The Spring of 2010 saw the addition of an extensive outdoor dining area, complete with a 10ft X 8ft steel barbecue and spit.

I'm looking forward to revisiting the Mark Addy, meeting old friends and sampling the food and drink on offer. I will report back with my findings in the near future.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Jaume Plensa at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Here's some of my photographs from my recent visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park to see the excellent exhibition by Jaume Plensa. The exhibition runs until 25th September 2011 and is well worth a visit.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Room Revisited

The Room are one of the most underrated groups of the early 80's, seen here performing Shirt of Fire on the Whistle Test in 1984. The Liverpool based group recorded just five albums, the best material can be heard on the 'In Evil Hour/Clear' compilation CD. I remember seeing them play in a small venue on Bold Street in Liverpool one New Year's Eve and was mesmerised by performance. If you like this track please check out the albums which I thoroughly recommend.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wild Beasts - Devil's Crayon

Came across this track on the Latitude Festival website recently and it's a corker!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Let's Hang On

Phoenix Stand by Stuart Roy Clarke

My new blog 'Let's Hang On' is about the highs and lows of following Wigan Athletic FC. The team were promoted to the English Premier League in 2005 and despite many people's expectations they have survived at this level for six seasons. However, at the beginning of February 2011 Wigan sit second bottom of the league and they have not won in 2011. Can they survive in the so called 'best league in the world'? Over the coming months 'Let's Hang On' will follow their fight for survival in a league with mega rich owners, £50m footballers, hysterical fans, and a relentless media .

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Joy Division live on Something Else

Joy Division live on Something Else - not quite as I remember it, but still worth watching.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The King is Dead

The Decemberists new album 'The King is Dead' is quite a departure from their previous epic 'The Hazards of Love.'  The group have made quite a reputation for developing 'dare I say' concept album approach to music making. However, the new album returns the group to their early folk/americana roots. The influence of REM is never far way and Peter Buck joins the group on several songs.

The King is Dead is perhaps not as immediate as 'The Hazards of Love' or  'The Crane Wife' but it is a rewarding experience following further listens. The band will be touring the UK in March and from my previous experience the live shows should not be missed - see you at the Leeds Academy show on 11 March?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Our Friends in the North

Our Friends in the North is probably the last great British TV series, there have been few series that have captured the social and political life of the north of England so successfully. Broadcast in 1996, the series covers the period 1964 to 1995 and follows the lives of the four central characters played by Nicky (Christopher Eccleston), Mary (Gina McKee), Geordie (Daniel Craig) and Tosker (Mark Strong). 

The story centres around the North East, the failure of the Labour Party and the decline of family.  The first episode sets the scene at the time of T. Dan Smith, the leader of Newcastle upon Tyne City Council and his plans to demolish terraced houses and replace them with high rise flats. It transpires that T Dan Smith took bribes from architect and Freemason John Poulson. Smith and Poulson were convicted and imprisoned in 1974, by which time the high rise flats that he and Poulson had conspired to build are now despised for their poor quality and ready to be pulled down.  

The web of corruption extended to the House of Commons where Poulson enjoyed lucrative business links with Conservative Home Secretary Reginald Maudling. Although the public figures in the story are given different names it is clear who they represent. The plot is also interwoven with the investigation into Police corruption and a scheme to flout the sanctions imposed on Ian Smith's Rhodesia.

As viewers we are completely engaged with the friends Nicky, Mary, Geordie and Tosker throughout the ensuing years. Their lives amplify the changing political and social landscape. Their moral choices and values are shaped by the society around them. The idealism of youth and belief in change gives way to cynicism and disappointment. The direct link to our current political processes and institutions are all too evident. Self serving and corrupt politicians are never far away.

However, despite the failure of our political institutions at least the friendships formed between Nicky, Mary, Geordie and Tosker have been profound and lasting.