Why I Love Paul Weller by @StamfordCowboy #Weller #MusicIsEverything

I was born in 1977 so unlike the vast majority of Weller fans who I’ve come to befriend over the years it wasn’t the Jam that switched me on to him, although those songs have come to mean the world to me since I discovered them.

My first big switch on to music came from watching Queen live at Wembley in ‘86 on the tele. I was totally hooked by the size of it, the showmanship of Freddie Mercury and the sheer flamboyance of it. I kind of measured everything else through my early years and into my teens to it. My school years got me hooked on Guns N’ Roses and Metallica and watching the massive shows that they were playing in stadiums around the world just whet my appetite for the big rock beast even more.

By the time I’d got a job, some money and eventually a car I just wanted to get out and get to some of these big shows. I cut my teeth at Donington Park watching a Monsters of Rock headlined by Metallica, followed this by watching Aerosmith in Wembley Stadium and many other large scale hairy rock shows. I truly believed it was the be all and end all.

The change in me started whilst at V97 – pivotal in switching me on to the whole Britpop thing that had blown up in the UK. Watching the likes of Blur, Beck, Placebo and an early incarnation of the Foo Fighters took a serious hold on my music tastes and brought me from the Kerrang genre into the NME / Melody Maker crowd. I followed this by going to many smaller shows than I’d ever done watching the Manic Street Preachers in Kettering of all places and the likes of Space in Cambridge. I got the attitude of I will go anywhere and watch anything – the live thing had gotten me totally hooked.

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My cousin, who had been a massive Jam fan and a big advocate of the Style Council, suggested to me about going to see Paul play at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester. She had never seen him and her fella reckoned that listening to him was as pleasurable as smashing a dustbin lid over your head. She didn’t drive and basically had no way of getting there so I felt it was my duty to take her.

Weller was touring “Heliocentric” at the time and still riding extremely high off the back of “Stanley Road” and “Heavy Soul”. I obviously purchased these records and set about listening to them along with his “Modern Classics” best of cd. I knew of “Wild Wood”, “Broken Stones” and “The Changingman” but wasn’t too up on the rest of it. I liked it but wasn’t initially overcome with it.

On the night of the gig we sat at the front of the balcony in the Hall. Weller if memory serves me correctly donned in Adidas original shirt and trainers looking very sharp and full of attitude – almost like he could explode at any minute. From the moment they started I sat forward totally transfixed by this bloke playing his guitar with more anger and passion than anyone I’d seen before. Singing clearer and more powerfully than anyone I’d heard before and backed by a band that was tighter than anything I’d witnessed before.

I’d already seen Ocean Colour Scene prior to this and was aware of the genius of Steve Cradock but him and Weller on stage really is a masterclass in musicianship. Add to this Steve White on drums and Edgar Summertime on bass and you’ve got a cracking band. I turned and looked at my cousin during “You Do Something to Me” and she’s in pieces. It was a truly brilliant show that rocked, had soul, a bit of psychedelia – unlike anything I’d seen before. He’d got me drawn in!!

Obviously I had to go again – so we then purchased tickets to go and see him at Shepherds Bush Empire. This show was part of his “Days of Speed” tour. A tour which was basically him acoustic. No band, no production, no gimmicks – just Paul Weller sat on a stool surrounded by 3 or 4 guitars playing his songs. I was down on the barrier for this one surrounded by his die hards and as long as I live I doubt I will ever see such an inspirational show. I’d never seen the solo acoustic show done (although many had done it before).

From the moment he opened with “Brand New Start” I was totally in awe of what I was watching. The real mind bending moment came when he played “English Rose”, a song from the Jam days which obviously is held dearly by every Jam fan on the planet and which become obvious to me when I was surrounded by women in floods of tears and blokes welling up whilst singing every single word. I’d never seen anyone play anything that could move people to that level. It made the hairs on my neck stand up and it has never happened to me since. In one 3 minute hit I’d just been given the musical education of a lifetime and I’ve never forgotten it.

That night changed how I listened to my music completely. Volume and showmanship got totally thrown out of the window and I got into discovering songs more and seeking out all the classic songwriters. Weller’s influences suddenly became my homework and I found myself digging out the Small Faces, The Kinks, and The Who etc. My Record collection took on a whole new look and then ultimately my wardrobe followed suit and then eventually a certain way of having your hair came along. The Mod scene had taken another victim.

I’ve seen him now not far off 40 times and luckily got to meet him a couple of years back before a show for 400 of us in Camden. He has totally infused my life and opened my eyes to things that during my younger years I never would have gone for and for that I am eternally grateful. I’ve gotten to dig back through his back catalogue and fall in love with songs that had the same power and effect when I was still crawling around in nappies. His music stands the test of time and as long as he still wants to go out and play I will be there somewhere down the front lapping it up.

Legend!!

Why I Love Beck by @underted1972 #Beck #MusicIsEverything

I have been thinking about this for a couple of days now, trying to think of an artist that I have enduring love for, someone who just seems to get better and better with every album and someone who does music that can match every mood.

Suddenly, Beck came into my head. How had it taken me all this time to think of this person who is, in my opinion, drastically underrated? I think I just answered my own question there – his name rarely comes up in a list of people’s favourites and no-one has ever done a ‘Beck Special’, not even on my favourite radio station (6Music).

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Most people had written Beck off as a ‘one hit wonder’ when he brought out ‘Loser’. I thought it was a cool tune, nothing more, nothing less – a bit of a stoner anthem but when 1996 came around and he released the album ‘Odelay’ the naysayers must’ve eaten their words (me included). I played that album endlessly.

‘The New Pollution’ is probably my favourite Beck song as I love the relentless percussion and the bassline – also, great to sing along to during the chorus. Oh wait, more favourites – ‘Sexx Laws’, ‘Think I’m in Love’, ‘Cellphone’s Dead’ and ‘Girl’.

Beck’s appeal for me is that he’s a genius songwriter – someone told me once that he just chucks a load of words in a bag, pulling them out randomly and makes sentences out of them (I believed it at the time), a great musician and he just has this lovely, easy vocal style.

I saw him at Glastonbury in 1997 (I think this was the year anyway – it’s all a bit of a blur) and he BLEW ME AWAY. First of all, he has this amazing stage presence and although he’s pretty average looking, on stage he is immensely sexy.  He has a great amount of confidence and can pull off a cowboy outfit (and a couple of costume changes). He also did the splits which was cool, and he covered a Smokey Robinson song so beautifully in such a spot on falsetto it actually made me cry. Easily down as one of the best gigs I’ve been to.

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Anyway, I love the guy.

Why I Love The Bee Gees by @skylarkingmatt #BeeGees #MusicIsEverything

1978… I am 6 years old and am already obsessed with my Dad’s stereo. At the age of 3, I had decided to get in his good books by cleaning all of his records for him – unfortunately my choice of washing up water and a pan scourer to complete this task proved foolhardy… his Carpenters album never sounded the same…!

The fifty pence pocket money I was given every week was just about enough to buy a 45 in those days, but long playing records were out of reach – well, unless it was Christmas. But then my wonderful mum put my Fisher Price toy garage in the small ads of the local paper, and got five pounds for it. On the regular Saturday shopping trip to Uxbridge she handed it to me, saying “It was your toy Matt – buy yourself something”. It was more money than I had ever seen, but I was going to spend it. So I went into WH Smith, handed over the fiver (and the 50p Dad had given me that morning). The assistant gave me a penny change and a copy of the double album that was at the top parade.

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I drove my mum nuts playing “Saturday Night Fever” in 1978. I don’t remember dancing to it but I must have done – how could you not move to “Night Fever” or “Jive Talkin’”? The Bee Gees ruled the roost in 78, and I was determined to get my five pounds and forty-nine pence worth.

The following week I invested a further 50p in a Pickwick compilation concentrating on their earlier material. I could scarcely believe that it was the same group. But even then I knew that “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You” and “Words” would be songs that would be part of my life forever.

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They have never been cool, but that’s fine because I’m not a cool person (despite what my 15-year-old nephew may tell you). Their songs are superbly crafted, and even in the lean 1980s it’s astonishing to think of the body of work they had: “Woman in Love”, “Heartbreaker”, “Islands in the Stream” and so on.

I would be lying if I implied that they have always been a favourite. By 1979 I had “Parallel Lines” and “Message in a Bottle” – why would I need “Spirits Having Flown”?

Plus, Kenny Everett poked fun at them, so they must be a joke or a novelty. As a teenager I was trying to impress girls with my Aerosmith and Def Leppard albums (unsuccessfully), but even then I think I knew that “You Win Again” was a far better record than “Dude Looks Like a Lady”.

I suspect they will never be regarded with the same level of admiration as Lennon and McCartney, or Bacharach and David. But they should be. They have made some truly sensational records. Go and play “To Love Somebody”. You know I’m right.

My Optimist Story or How Turin Brakes Made Me Cool

A more than suitable addition to the guest blog “Why I Love” series. Turin Brakes by @call_me_cynical #MusicIsEverything

Sounds Familiar

This piece should probably begin by saying something along the lines of “The debut album by Turin Brakes and the one that started my love affair with their music”.  It should start like that, but it doesn’t.  As much as I am a massive fan of the band, I cannot actually say for certain how my story with them begins.  I do know it wasn’t with The Optimist LP though.  I think that came later.

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Back in 2001 when the album was released I was heavily involved with The Bluetones amongst others, although I would have always been looking for the next thing to spark my interest.  I must’ve heard some Brakes songs that year though as I remember going to see David Gray at Earls Court in late 2002 and they were the support act.  I recognised the songs and totally loved it so they had definitely made it…

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Why I Love Belly by @perlalaloca #Belly #MusicIsEverything

 

I’m weird about stuff I really love. I mean, REALLY love. I won’t share unless I am 100% certain you will get it. I copied Belly’s “Star” for 4 people. If you were one of them, then I trusted you with my life.

Flashback: it’s February 1993, late Sunday afternoon. I’m on a coach travelling through the snow-capped Brecon Beacons, going home to Aberystwyth after visiting my best friend, Kirsten, in Bath. On my treasured, if beaten, tinny, on-its-last-legs Walkman is a new LP I have taped. And everything suddenly merges: the weird twilight quality of the sunset gleaming off the peaks; the feeling of pleasure & warmth after spending two days with my favourite person in the world, dancing, seeing films, eating ice-cream in the cold; and this unearthly sound, this tough, tender, howling, oblique… weirdness.

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I don’t know where I first heard “Feed the Tree”. Probably Aberystwyth’s semi-mythical basement-bar-by-the-sea, The Bay. An absolute dive, with dark walls, hidden corners, toilets that flooded and watered-down vodka. Full of the weird, the misfits, the wonderful. You know, Indie before Britpop, when the goths, crusties, hippies, metallars, grungers & indie kids all mixed as one eclectic tribe. So, yes, on the dancefloor, I suspect, that sticky, crowded dancefloor, awash with black leather, florals, Docs, cigarettes. Paradise. This slightly hushed, sweet voice comes in over an insistent beat, ticking cymbals: “So take your hat off, boy, when you’re talking to me, and be there when I feed the tree”. What? Squirrels? Baby silvertooth? WHAT?! The voice swirls up, sweetness and sand, lemon and liquor, a hint of a yodel and breath of a sigh. And like that, my indie heart is captured. Smitten. “I’ll only hurt you in my dreams”. Oh, Tanya…

And getting the LP from Andy’s Records: such a beautiful album, thick tactile card, a poster and art cards inside, with disturbing photos by drummer Chris Gorman, not helping to clarify those mysterious lyrics. Why did Maria carry a rifle? Why was there a dead dog on her back? Shining knights, frogs, dogs, cellars, pale girls and low moons, full moons, shining whitely.

Tanya’s voice is deceptively sweet, it lures you in, just as indie boys were charmed by her tiny stature, her blonde bob, her vintage vibe. And yet… the spike was always there, the glass in the honey, the blood in the mouth. That’s what I love, the duality. The hummable songs that later you realise are about abuse, pain wrapped in pleasure, the dark side surrounded in this glorious halo of chiming guitars and soaring, swooning lyrics.

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Ever since, I have followed Tanya’s career with interest. She’s always exciting, never obvious. “King”, stuffed with more accessible rock tunes, the B sides like “Judas My Heart” and “John Dark”, as good as the As. Tanya’s solo LPs, particularly “Beautysleep” and “Lovesongs for Underdogs”. Seeing her play with Mary Lou Lorson and Kristin Hersh, those effortless harmonies twining.

And she’s woven into intense, scattered moments: my beau unplaiting my red hair to “Low Red Moon”, moonlight streaming through the window at our feet. Jumping in a moshpit at Shepherd’s Bush, heartbroken, bruised, ‘BELLY’ scrawled across my break-up-skinny exposed midriff. Glastonbury ‘95, best friend by my side, sun beating down, against the barrier, fierce love in my heart. Intensely negotiating a redefinition of affection to “Judas Mon Coeur” with a boy old before his time. Drowsing in sunshine, hand curved protectively over my rounded belly, humming “Keeping You” to my own little grace.

So, I know she’ll be there when I feed the tree, deep inside me, all those words & notes, crawling like silverfish in my veins. Thank you, Tanya.

Why I Love Foals by @jenbren1976 #Foals #MusicIsEverything

Like many love affairs, my introduction to Foals was not a good one. Back in 2007, I was living in dull ol’Hull with my now ex-boyfriend, stuck in a 2-bed poky terraced house & he was discovering a new Oxford band who were making major waves on the indie scene we were both so fond of. This band were a bunch of squeaky-voiced skinny students who were representing the burgeoning “math-rock” scene, and got exposure thanks to “Skins”, the gritty teen Channel 4 sex, drugs’n’nudity “What Top Shop Are Currently Selling To Da Kidz, Blud” drama of the day. I’ve always been a hard woman to win over musically, and their pre-pubescent squeaky white-boy Afro-rock guitar stylings didn’t really convince me at the time. My ex’s repeated protestations didn’t help either (I’m a demon for wanting to go against the opinion of those close to me).

Anyway. Fast forward to early 2013. Ex was exactly that, a thing of the past, and I had found myself a new life and new home in Leeds after a few years of huge emotional, career and geographic transition. I started working from home 2 days a week, and got myself into a cosy domestic routine of listening to BBC 6 Music in the living room whilst performing perfunctory duties on my laptop (the job may have changed, but that habit hasn’t). 6 Music reminded me so much of my youth in numerous ways – it delivered the alternative music diet by radio intake I so sorely lacked since I moved to the UK. In Ireland I spent my late teens and most of my twenties listening to a wonderful station called Phantom FM, which not only fulfilled my musical nutritional needs and educated me, but also gave me some wonderful lifelong friends. 6 Music was the only station I had discovered since moving to the UK in 2006 where I could enjoy an intimate feed of a diverse variety of both old and new music that was sadly missing from other mainstream media.

So I was happily enjoying a musical renaissance of sorts. Moving away from staid, bad old habits reminding me of a couple of years (and people) I’d rather forget. While also enjoying a renewed social life and still feeling young. In the background, a funky, sleek lil’ disco track was soundtracking my newfound sense of fun and creative freedom – a track named “My Number”. 3 minutes of sleek disco pop that Nile Rogers could have baked up in his musical microwave. Too elegant & Halston-clad to be lazily labelled as indie-disco pop. If it was a man, it would have bought me a drink and charmed me enough to put a smile on my face. The sort of song I’d look forward to hearing on a night out, of which there were many at that time.

However, the dating suddenly took a more serious turn a few months later and the relationship was truly made official when they released “Late Night”. To this day I feel it’s the greatest Steely Dan song Donald Fagen never put his name to, and quite possibly one of my favourite songs of all time. It grabbed me on first listen, probably because its appropriately-titled atmospheric sound appealed directly to my nocturnal night-owl ways. The mournful Rhodes piano, gentle, subtle disco drum beat, Yannis’ increasingly pleading vocal and orgasmic climax (something I’ve noticed Foals are incredibly skilled at) conveying a dark, emotional night of intimate congress that I’ve never heard before. And the guitar bridge towards the end… Christ! Talk about a guitar riff matching the increasingly plaintive and emotional vocal. Absolutely superb song. And the video for it also is just as intense, if not more so. Filmed in a sleazy Romanian hotel, the band perform below 3 rooms where a single mother is giving birth, a young couple are having sex and a troubled man involved in organised crime is about to successfully commit suicide. All of this convinced me thoroughly that Foals were the real deal, and I was very much a satisfied punter upon buying their “Holy Fire” album.

2 months later I found myself at home on Friday night when the BBC’s annual Glastonbury coverage was on. Foals were the first act who were being shown that night, having been given the penultimate sunset Other Stage billing. Well a fourth dimension had suddenly been introduced into my relationship with the Oxford lads. Despite still being in their twenties (and showing clear maturity and progression from their math-rock Antidotes period), the band displayed a harder punch than the heavyweight champion of the world. Several of their tracks from previous albums which sounded geeky and anaemic on record sounded incredibly threatening, incendiary and trancendal when performed live, Total Life Forever and the utterly insane set-closer Two Steps Twice being two examples. Again, for a hardened recovering musical snob who was hard to win over, Foals had impressed me, made me drunk with admiration and bowled me over, like a charming, handsome date surprising me with a trip to Paris for the weekend.

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That sunny summer brought some more magnificent Foals discoveries – the glorious pure, unpretentious pop of Bad Habit, their stripped-down CCTV sessions I discovered via YouTube (the word “ac***ic” was not once used or relevant) and I invested in a ticket to see them in the Manchester Apollo in 2014. In 2013 they played some 155 concerts which shows an incredible work ethic and commitment to intense, quality musicianship. Reviews for their performances since 2013 have been consistently positive and strong, and it’s of little surprise. Several YouTube explorations have proved the band to be non-contrived, displaying consistent high quality, and yet they stick to little motifs (Yannis’ habit of playing a guitar strapped highly upon his body, Walter’s hidden but highly audible and excellent bass technique and Jack Bevan’s powerful death-metal inspired drums) that keep the band unique & maintain their identity.

The 2014 Manchester concert came as no surprise to me in its quality. Intense, planned and choreographed sufficiently to allow the band to perform in their own natural rawness, and yet whet the appetite of the audience (the band played the rousing “Nautilus” by Anna Meredith before coming on stage, in order to whip the audience up into a hungry rock-craving frenzy), they played a set which was on the level of their oh-so-intense Latitude 2013 set (please, please check this out on YouTube if you can. The band at their absolute zenith). Yannis hurled himself into the crowd guitar strapped around his shoulders, an experience he replicates at all their concerts because “it’s exactly how I feel when I’m at a gig, I want the band to throw themselves at me and be immersed inside them”. To say that I left the concert exhausted and spent was an understatement. A marvellous experience. I saw them later that year, also in Manchester, at the not-entirely-pleasant Parklife festival. The band were last on the bill after a long day of rain & mud, and admittedly I was worse the wear after a bag of boxed wine and several trips on log flume rides that my gloriously insane pal Dawne had dragged me on, so my memories of the concert itself aren’t great. And an outdoor generic festival in Heaton Park in Manchester doesn’t really compare to the intensity and intimacy of the Apollo, admittedly. But my love for the band never died throughout 2014 & 2015.

June 2015 saw the arrival of highly-anticipated new music, in the shape of “What Went Down”, the first single from the album of same name. A highly aggressive, menacing, right-hook hammer blow of a track, it left the listener shocked, stunned and commanded attention. I was partially expecting to be disappointed by their new material, and happily, this wasn’t the case. During a year in my life that brought frightening, insecure news and developments, this proved to be a strangely accurate soundtrack. I’d go as far as to say that What Went Down is Foals’ “Gimme Shelter”, it has a similar effect on the listener, it’s not easy listening but can appropriately soundtrack uneasy times, and with events in the news during 2015, slotted in nicely. The resulting album in August didn’t disappoint either, however I will say it carries more filler than “Holy Fire” (Night Swimmers & Lonely Hunter are distinctly average tracks in my not-so-humble opinion). And perhaps they may have rushed its release? Who knows. However, if that was the case, it fits in with the band’s hunger and desire to play live. And upon seeing them in Liverpool in November 2015, this was hugely obvious. Coupled with Yannis now upgrading his crowdsurfing to hurling himself off the venue’s balcony seating some 12 feet in the air. Sans paralysis and injury of any kind.

Album tracks like “Birch Tree” with its nods towards early 80s hip-hop rhythms whilst maintaining their historic much loved Afrobeat-style guitars (a nod to Yannis’ maternal South African roots), “Albatross” (which has inspired me in my new-found running hobby during 2015 and will no doubt be heavily used by BBC Sports), the moody evocative “London Thunder” and the relentlessly funky rock of “Mountain At My Gates” still make for an incredibly strong album that most bands of their age would kill to record.

Foals have now become a major force to be reckoned with on the UK music scene, and yet appear reluctant to become 100% mainstream or deviate from their own identity. They embark on an arena tour of the UK in February 2016, and it will be interesting to see how the What Went Down songs translate to wider venues, in addition to their riot-inducing numbers such as “Inhaler”, “Hummer”, “Two Steps Twice”, “Providence” and “Spanish Sahara”. You also have to consider that this band have been together for over 10 years and show no signs of staleness to date, even their occasional cover versions are incredibly strong (their Australian radio show Like A Version cover of Mark Ronson/Tame Impala’s “Daffodils” makes the original pale into comparison with the funk, technique and original synthesiser arrangement displayed).

Thank you Foals, for giving me more satisfaction, joy & pleasure than any man has given me in the last 4 years. I have spent a huge amount of time loving and enjoying your musicianship so, and I don’t see any sign of this fading any time soon.

New Music Releases 29th Jan 2016 #MusicIsEverything

Emil Bulls – Xx

Walking on Cars – Everything This Way

Black Tusk – Pillars of Ash

Milk Teeth – Vile Child

Seafret – Tell Me It’s Real

Florist – The Birds Outside Sang

Alex Da Ponte – All My Heart

Cian Nugent – Night Fiction

Night Beats – Who Sold My Generation

Walter Martin – Arts & Leisure

Blaue Blume – Syzygy

Ketser – Starless

St Lucia – Matter

Miranda Lee Richardson – Echoes of the Dreamtime

Basement – Promise Everything

Nevermen – Nevermen

Uxo – Uxo

Tuff Love – Resort

Cauldron – In Ruin

Wet – Don’t You

Harriet – American Appetite

Billion Dollar Babies – Chemical God

Wall of Death – Loveland

Sierra Hull – Weighted Mind

Money – Suicide Songs

The Crookes – Lucky Ones

Sia – This is Acting

Turin Brakes – Lost Property

Bloc Party – Hymns

Why I Love Bad Religion by @guitartutorrich #BadReligion #MusicIsEverything

It was March 1991, and I was already bored with hair metal, thrash and even grunge. I was really looking for something new. A good friend of mine who I had known for years, and who was something of a connoisseur of all things punk gave me a C90 tape of this American band who I had never heard of before. They were called Bad Religion.

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The first track up was “Modern Man” (the album was “Against the Grain”) and on first listen it sounded to me like a bunch of lab scientists playing at melodic hardcore. The whole idea that a band could play that fast whilst adding in harmony vocals that sounded like The New Seekers, and with lyrics that had a profound angle on the human condition, was an epiphany.

These guys sounded like a folk band on amphetamine. Dr Greg Graffin’s words of wisdom and Jay Bentley’s grinding yet melodic Fender precision barrage tapestried with chord progressions straight from the song book of Richard Thompson offered me a new favourite band. Twenty five years later, they are still THE favourite band.

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Very few of my mates at the time got them. It was only with the advent of the more vanilla bands of the melodic punk genre three or four years later that anyone else really caught on.

Having experienced the band live on nearly every occasion they have played in the UK since 1991, if anything over the years they have got better, diversified the song writing, reinvented their sound and explored new intricacies and sophistications. The addition of the mighty Brooks Wackerman on drums and Brian Baker on guitar in the late 90s and 2001’s monumental “The Process of Belief” album which heralded the return of Graffin’s songwriting henchman, Mr Brett, set Bad Religion off into a new golden age.

I think being able to relate to lyrics on a very personal level is imperative, and the fact the songs have such a degree of melody and aggression with Bad Religion also being a ferocious live band sealed the deal for me.

Suggested listening:

“Turn on the Light” from “Against the Grain”

“All Good Soldiers” from “Recipe for Hate”

“Stranger than Fiction” from “Stranger from Fiction”

“When” from “Suffer”

“Cease” from “The Gray Race”

“The Defense” from “The Process of Belief”

“Honest Goodbye” from “New Maps of Hell”

Why I Love Dark Dark Dark by @richard0x4a #DarkDarkDark #MusicIsEverything

I first saw Dark Dark Dark at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, in August of 2012. The only song I knew was Bright Bright Bright, heard on Gideon Coe’s show on 6music some weeks before. The crowd was small. No-one stood; there were so few people, all could find seats on the handful of chairs dotted around the edge of the room. I found a spot on a bench against the wall, near to the stage, and the keyboard that Nona Marie Invie sat behind and sang.

The songs were unfamiliar and with a sound that was new to me. Piano, electric banjo, trumpet, clarinet, accordion, drums, bass and a voice with such warmth and complexity. At one point, Nona emerged from behind her keyboard with extraordinary reluctance and stood at the front of the stage to sing two songs. I have never seen a front woman of a band look so awkward. But she held the small crowd and I felt such warmth for her coming from the room. By the time she returned with evident relief to the safety of her keyboard, my love for the band had taken deep hold.

I last saw Dark Dark Dark at the Georgian Theatre in Stockton in July of 2013. Another small crowd. There were ranks of chairs in front of the stage that gradually filled up, with a few more people stood behind. I bought vinyl and a band t-shirt at the merchandise stall, then sat with their latest record propped against my leg while I waited for the band to come on stage. A young girl had been brought to the gig, by her Dad presumably, and was bouncing with excitement. Her Dad bought her a copy of the score for Daydreaming from the merch stall, and I think Nona signed it for her after the gig. Such is Dark Dark Dark’s devoted fanbase.

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Mark Trecka was the first of the band to arrive on stage. He took his position behind the drums and started to tap out random chimes of cymbal. Gradually the other musicians emerged and joined in. Each musician tentatively sounding their instrument. Gradually, the sounds gained structure and a song emerged. It was The Great Mistake, the closing tune from their most recent album, Who Needs Who. The song built and built, circling around until it reached that beautiful coda where Walt McClements’ mournful trumpet takes the song into a wholly different place. It was one of those moments where a song I had little noticed, was revealed in such splendour when played live that it became a clear favourite.

Since then, Dark Dark Dark announced that they are on hiatus. There was a bit of excitement when they came together to soundtrack the film, Flood. There are hints they might tour again, but nothing concrete. Nona has other projects on the go, as do other band members. The tour page on their website simply says, “No upcoming dates”.

I know from experience that their gigs had sparse crowds, so I worry. And yet, I love their records and I loved seeing them play. It breaks my heart to think they may never tour again. A band can be rare and precious. Each time I hear it, the opening refrains of The Great Mistake transport me back to that room in Stockton on Tees when I saw Dark Dark Dark take the stage. I hope it is not the last time.

Why I Love Depeche Mode by @AnxiousFlag #MusicIsEverything #DepecheMode

Saturday 31st July 1993, 3pm… I was not feeling very good.

A 5 hour minibus ride with no toilets from Shrewsbury, with the M25 in its usual fine form. The beginnings of Glandular Fever, a couple of very ill advised beers & a very run down athletics stadium all contributed somewhat. And first up onstage were those goth behomoths the Sisters of Mercy…

Dusk. Sun relenting. Stage empty bar a drumkit, 3 raised synths & one lone microphone stage front. Crowd nervously agitated thanks to said sun & the obligatory alcohol, and the main attraction have not been seen in England in over a year. Lights Dim, crowd in ecstasy… a lone bedraggled, bearded, waistcoated man wanders not completely securely to the microphone & says not a word, just raises his arms to the sky in almost a Jesus-esque pose to the followers below. The strains of “Higher Love” starts behind him… the crowd & this one man are bonded together for the next 2 hours… Depeche Mode are home.

To be honest, ever since the “Music for the Masses” tour started in 1987, until the end of the “Devotional” tour in 1994, pretty much every gig Depeche Mode played was similar to this. To get to this stage had taken a long time in the making.

We have all heard & know Depeche Mode. The 4 boys from Basildon, for whom Vince Clarke was once a member, who have somehow survived since 1980 etc etc. But this is not a history lesson on them, this is my own personal thoughts & reasons why I have adored this band since 1989. And whose music still gets me emotional to this day. (‘See You’ is doing just that right to me now even as I write this!)

In 1989, my friend Louisa was looking after a bunch of French foreign exchanged students, who insisted on playing “101” (Depeche Mode’s live album of the Masses tour) everywhere. She fell in love with it, and recommended I listen to it. I had only heard of “Just Can’t Get Enough” & ‘Everything Counts’ beforehand, obviously in studio form. But when I heard them live, the crowd reaction, the way they performed it, Dave Gahan’s live voice was totally stunning. The album was the only thing I played for the next 6 months. Literally. I knew every word of every song.

They released a video accompanying the album, culminating in the last gig at the Pasadena Rose Bowl… it was at this moment I was hooked. The video showed in full “Never Let Me Down Again”. A great song, with a number of endings depending on the mood of the band. On this occasion they played a lengthy outro, where Gahan managed to get the entire crowd arm waving in unison with him as the guys behind him played. 67,000 people. It was a ‘wow’ moment, how could this band & this guy get a crowd reaction like that??? They did the same with “Everything Counts”, Gahan’s face a joy as he lowered the band’s sound to let the crowd sing. I wanted to be part of this. To experience it, to sing with them, sing with the crowd.

Natural progression was to buy their entire back catalogue, from “Speak & Spell” through to the current latest one “Music for the Masses”. But where could we see them live? We got into them at the end of a tour, not prior to a new release! The only thing to do was to join the Mode fanclub & wait!

You have to remember that in 1989, Depeche Mode were a very big name in the US & in Europe especially Germany, but still growing in the UK. A flyer came out. Mode were performing at an event in Dortmund called ‘Peter’s Pop Show’, with such acts as Roxette, Richard Marx, Taylor Dayne & Milli Vanilli!! Mode only played/mimed new song “Enjoy the Silence”, but the crowd were wild, mental! Our eyes were glued to them, mesmerised to what they were doing & the audience around us. (Later that night back in the hotel in Cologne, us & the coach group got very very drunk with the Goombay Dance Band, but that’s another story)!

“Enjoy the Silence” was the first song off “Violator”, released in 1990, which was seen by most as their masterpiece. On the subsequent tour, we again saw them in Dortmund, & various other cities abroad, and back home in London & Birmingham. Every gig was the same in passion, intensity, showmanship, energy. We couldn’t get enough of it.

Depeche-Mode-1990-portrait

Gahan’s ability to hold an audience was only part of the reason why I loved this band. But my god what a job he did. Note perfect in every song, dancing around & twirling like a lunatic, (granted his stage chat could be better!), but remember this guy was the only attention for the crowd in those days. He had 3 guys behind him playing synths only. Biased yes, but why has he never been mentioned in the ‘best frontmen’ lists???

Prior to “Playing the Angel” Martin Gore wrote every song after Vince Clarke left the band. But slowly, as the albums grew, so did his songwriting ability. His songs started to have religious or sexual themes, sometimes a combination of both, with moody, dark, deep, passionate music to accompany it. (Never more so as on “Songs of Faith & Devotion”). These tunes, with Gahan’s almost passionate & pleading voice singing them, was again a huge part of the attraction. As were the 2 ballads that Gore started to include on each album, sung by himself, which were a complete contrast to the rest of the album but still fitted in.

The 3rd & final reason for me, and I’ve realised its only something I’ve recently noticed. Alan Wilder joined the band in 1981 after Clarke left, and left himself after the “Songs of Faith & Devotion” tour. As well as being one of the 2 main synth players (Andy Fletcher basically does nothing bless him), Wilder started to arrange the songs not only on tour but in the studio. He would turn a ballad into a pop classic (“Enjoy the Silence” was meant to be a ballad until Wilder suggested speeding it up), & he was the brains behind Mode starting to play the drums (himself) & the guitar (Gore) on stage. (Personally I wasn’t the biggest fan of this. It meant the songs were heavier, but something was missing from the live version.)

For me, “Songs of Faith & Devotion” was the last great Mode Album. Yes, they have had good singles since then (“Dream On”, “Precious”, “I Feel Loved”), but something has been missing since that album. It’s one of 2 things I think. Firstly, this was an album made by a band on the very edge. Literally. No one was speaking. Gahan on Heroin. Fletcher having a breakdown. Gore having seizures. Wilder just fed up. But these issues come across in the album. It’s dirty, it’s very dark, Gahan’s voice is desperate & pleading, the gospel singers, it just draws you in to how seedy the band was. You can’t help feeling seedy & in need of a shower after listening to it!!! Secondly, Wilder left soon afterwards, and that, for me is why the subsequent albums have not been quite as good. His arrangement skills (plus the fact the band is clean, & I never think a band writes better when clean!) left as well, and while the good songs are there, the chance to be great songs has been missed.

Two more songs to listen to, for you to see why I love this band:-

“In Your Room” from “Songs of Faith & Devotion” (this has just come on the iPod, I’m at work & I’m in tears, THAT’S the power of this tune).

“Somebody” – Teenage Cancer Gig 2010.  I found this about 6 months ago, Mode played 3 songs for the gig, and on “Somebody” (A Martin Gore ballad), the piano was played by Alan Wilder, who returned to play just this one song. Just listen to the crowd reaction. It’s a beautiful song anyway, but my god I was in floods seeing this again.

Music often has me in floods of tears. Often at work. Often when I least expect it. That’s why it’s in my Soul. Nothing else gets me like this… ever.

As someone once sagely put – Music is Everything.