Friday, 29 January 2010

Hidden gem: Mighty Real - Sylvester (Fantasy, 1979)

It is generally accepted that disco is a genre that doesn’t really lend itself to the album format. Like house music, it is music primarily for the dance-floor and as such the ebb and flow of styles which are needed to provide variety in the album format don’t really work when all of the songs are of a similar tempo. Having said that, there are exceptions to every rule and Mighty Real is one such exception. This is actually an album that was pulled together in 1979 by Sylvester’s record company from other albums (Step 2, Stars) to cash in on his success and yet surprisingly it provides a very coherent listen with Sylvester’s rich voice and Patrick Cowley’s futuristic production combining to create a well rounded sound lacking in other records of the era.

Sylvester was one of the first artists not only to admit his homosexuality but actively celebrate it in his work - Many of his songs were overtly camp and sexual and his influence, it could be argued, can be heard in artists as diverse as Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Hercules and the Love Affair. He was born somewhere between 1944 and 1948 in Los Angeles and moved to San Francisco 1969 joining a cross dressing hippy revue troupe called The Cockettes.They split in 1972 and Sylvester spent next few years doing cabaret shows before securing a record contract with Blue Thumb Records with whom he recorded two albums singing falsetto over rock cover versions. Around the same time he sang backing vocals on Betty Davis’ debut album.

He got swept up in the disco sound on a trip to Europe and released Sylvester in 1977. It contained a version of Ashford and Simpson’s Over and Over which combined the soulful funk sound of the early 70’s with the emerging beat driven sound that was being used by new producers like Giorgio Moroder and Patrick Cowley. The track became a favourite at David Mancuso’s legendary Loft. Sylvester then hooked up with Cowley to record You make me feel (Mighty Real) which although not a big hit had a huge impact on the club scene and set a template for a style that would become known as Hi NRG which would be taken forward by UK DJs like Ian Levine, Ian Stevens and Kev Roberts.

Cowley and Sylvester continued to work together, recording the concept album Stars and ultimately the track Menergy, a key Cowley track which would pre empt both electro and house. The AIDs epidemic in the San Francisco community in the 1980s would end up taking the lives of both Cowley (1982) and Sylvester himself (1988).

Mighty Real captures the pinnacle of Sylvester’s career. It kicks off with a couple of uptempo disco stompers in Stars and Body Strong. Stars in particular capture the whole disco experience ‘ Take a look around, tell me what you see, sisters and brothers, feeling high, feeling free’ brings us to the dancefloor over a fusion of synthesised piano, phased effects and horn bursts. Body Strong is built around a clipped guitar riff and a driving 4/4 beat before giving way to strings. Third track Down Down Down recalls Aretha Franklin’s Rocksteady with a build interspersed with trumpet blasts before the side ends with the timeless and proud Mighty Real.

It is side two however where things get really interesting. It opens with a version of Leiber and Stoller’s I who have nothing before what is the emotional centre of the album I need somebody to love tonight brings to mind dark lonely streets rather than the dance-floor and is more reminiscent ofs ay Vangelis’ Bladerunner soundtrack than it is Chic. Sylvester’s vocal is empty and heartfelt, pleading for a lover who is never going to come while Cowley’s dubby beats create an eerie beauty.

By contrast, next track Over and Over is one of the key disco anthems and offers a playful response before final track Dance (Disco Heat) brings things to a close. As on the rest of the album, the backing vocals from Wash and Izora Rhodes are superb – they would later go on to find fame as the Weather Girls.

Intentional or not, this is a release that takes the listener on a journey through a night on the town - the optimism and excitement of going out, the ecstasy of strutting your stuff on the dancefloor, the disappointment of not picking someone up and the long walk home.

The good news is that it can be picked up for between £5 and £10. An absolute steal. Pick one up, put on your glad rags and dance.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Boards of Canada - an appreciation

It’s difficult to pin down exactly what makes the Boards of Canada’s sound so satisfying. Their albums barely carry a tune let alone a song and the beats are neither cutting edge nor dancey. Instead they invoke a gentle nostalgia of 1970’s childhoods, nature documentaries and sitting out under the stars.

Based in the west of Scotland, the duo (Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison) began their career on the Skam label. EP’s Twoism, Hi Scores and a number of remixes brought them to wider attention before their debut album Music has the Right for Children was released on Warp Records in 1998. It was instantly proclaimed a classic by both the aging dance intelligencia and critics alike. Chill out was the sound of the day with Air, Kruder and Dorfmeister et al bridging the underground and the mainstream to soundtrack coffee shops from Shoreditch to Shetland. Boards of Canada sat uneasily with these acts, sharing a stoned ambient melancholy and yet very different. Whereas these acts took soulful vocals and filled late night mixes, Music was almost entirely instrumental and reflected a rural, folksy vibe which would pre-empt the likes of Kieron Hebden, Joanna Newsom and the rest of the so called ‘Folktronica’ movement some five years later.

The influences on the album were difficult to pin down; Aphex Twin’s more esoteric moments were there as was hip hop but so was dialogue from TV nature programmes and spooky children’s voices – the effect was slightly unsettling. At a time in history where everyone cherishes the new and where uptempo music is the flavour of the day this analogue recorded downbeat record was a strange thing indeed. The duo’s reluctance for both interviews and live dates added to the sense of intrigue and little else (save for a John Peel session and a four track EP) was heard until 2002’s Geogaddi.

One again, this felt like a record out of time. By now, the charts were awash with new wave style guitar acts and most electronic innovation could be found in American R&B producers such as Timberland and the Neptunes rather than the dance movement where stadium rock style DJs were delivering consistently below par albums. Geogaddi ‘s song titles included Dawn Chorus, Dandelion and The Beach at Redpoint and once again, the grooves reflected more of a rural folk tradition than what one might term urban music. Yet it certainly wasn’t folk music either with off kilter beats and synthesizers recalling both other Warp acts and the progressive skyscapes of Tangerine Dream. Clever use of samples ensured a clear identity for each part of the record and preventing things becoming too repetitive (it is fair to say that Boards of Canada’s music isn’t particularly varied). It was arguably darker than the debut with Dawn Chorus in particular creating a sense of nauseous detachment and alienation with its slowed down synthesizer waves.
2005’s Campfire Headphase saw perhaps their most rounded sound to date with acoustic guitars being added on some tracks to give their strongest melodies to date. Dayvan Cowboy in particular sounded like a proper single and it later featured heavily on a six track EP (their latest release to date) Trans Canada Highway.

Boards of Canada will never sell a lot of records nor will they release a groundbreaking album of classic songs. What they will continue to do however is provide us with soundtracks that inspire, create a yearning for lost childhood, home and feelings of warmth inside and for that we should be grateful for rarely does electronic music create such an emotional pull.

Friday, 15 January 2010

The 20 greatest Australian funk records

For those of us who see a long haul holiday as an opportunity to undertake some serious digging, the land down under is a veritable treasure trove of vinyl.

1970’s Australian jazz and funk has gained increasing respectability in recent years via DJ’s such as Kinetic and Sheep. The rest of the world is finally catching on to the genre with an increasing number of collectors returning to records that, outside their own country, were often seen as inferior to their US and even UK counterparts at the time. Many of these records now attract a premium and their popularity has recently led to the release of a trio of excellent compilations called Respect Overdue on the Creative Vibes label.

Significantly influenced by folk, progressive rock, krautrock and other genres of the day, 70’s Aussie funk is distinctive in that it was very much funk of the blue-eyed variety while its jazz scene was very much defined by the quality of its musicianship and its ability to incorporate the latest sounds. Despite the size of the country, the scene was relatively small in numbers with many musicians playing on each others records. The funk tradition continues to this very day with the excellent Bamboos, Dojo Cuts and Tiki Two.

My own first brush with Oz funk occurred during a round the world trip about a decade ago – picking up a haul of Marcia Hines, Daly Wilson and Crossfire amongst others – records that can be picked up even now for a few dollars but brimming with quality. It’s a serious financial undertaking to get out there but that’s where ebay comes in! Enjoy…

1. Sue Barker – S/t (Crest 1976)
A bit of a holy grail this one with copies changing hand for over £100. Sue Barker was a jazz singer from Adelade and only recorded this one record but what a record it is. An embarrassment of riches with jazz standards, Marvyn Gaye and Curtis Mayfield covers. If you see one snaffle it!

2. Quasar – Man Coda (AIJA, 1981)
Privately pressed and only 500 copies in existence. Recorded direct to digital tape by just a drummer, bassist, and guitarist, the sounds vary from moody, multi-layered tunes like the title track through to more jazzy stuff. The drums in particular are really heavy. Clearly influenced by the Krautrock sound and a fantastic psychadelic cover as well.

3. Savanna Silver Band – Pure Silver (Champagne, 1978)
I picked this up a few years ago in Brisbane and I don’t know much about it but its great. White boys playing afro funk and 70’s radio rock. The stand out track is Ruby Running Faker.

4. Marcia Hines - Marcia Shines (Wizard, 1975)
Classic northern soul straight out of New South Wales. American born Hines had a long and successful career and still gigs today. There are a number of standout tracks on this, her first, album including You gotta let go and Don’t let the Grass Grow. You should be able to pick this one up for under a tenner and well worth it.

5. Kerrie Biddell – Kerrie Biddell (Bootleg, 1973)
Biddell had been a pianist until she developed arthritis at 15 and so turned to singing. The album as a whole is on a singer-songwriter folky vibe but the track people tend to buy it for is a cover of Sly Stone’s Sing a Simple Song which provides a fantastic, energetic and original take on the original (think Janis Joplin perhaps).

6. Don Burrows – The Tasman Connection (Cherry Pie, 1976)
Perhaps the best known Aussie Funk album of all, the title track being sampled by all sorts of hip hop producers over the years. A heavy clarinet break that is instantly recognisable. Multi-instrumentalist Don Burrows is one of the Australian jazz scene’s most respected players. Despite now being over 80 he still occasionally plays today.

7. Ayers Rock – Big Red Rock (Mushroom, 1973)
Another heavy break on this one in the form of ‘Crazy Boys’. These guys had a slightly proggy leaning but as with so many Aussie funk releases tight playing mean that this has a real grove. Great cover as well!

8. Gallapagos Duck – Ebony Quill (Phillips, 1974)
More stalwarts of the 70’s jazz scene. Many would plump for their soundtrack to the Removalists as their best work but this is my particular favourite. Recorded in just two days it features a trio of flutes over mellow jazz grooves – niiiice.

9. Billy Thorpe – Million Dollar Bill (Festival, 1975)
This is worth admission for one track alone – a cover of Etta James’ ‘Back on the Streets’. Essentially an Aussie take on the Theme from Shaft – psychedelic soul sung by a guy who looks like a redneck cop. Billy Thorpe is dead now but this album is a fitting testament to his post Aztecs work.

10. The Tony Ansell Orchestra – Just Arranging (Batjazz, 1978)
A who’s who of the vibrant 70’s scene – featuring, amongst others, Kerrie Biddell and Don Burrows. This is straight ahead jazz with (as the title suggests) some excellent arrangements.

11. Rock Mass for Love – Bakery and Jazz Ensemble (Astor, 1971)
A personal favourite this one. Released in 1971, a bizarre fusion of Anglican church service and full on heavy jazz funk. The combination of spiritual chanting and psychy Axlerod-esque beats makes this a truly unique recording.

12. Hammond Electrique – Claude Pepesch (EMI Australia, 1974)
Cheesy listening Wurlitzer classic with a number of the staples of the day (Candle in the Wind, Killing me Softly) the payoff is a Pepesch original called ‘Trini Baby’

13. Inner Space – Sven Libaek (Festival, 1973)
Not really a funk record – rather a bizarre soundtrack to a film and tv series about sharks. Recently re-released on Votary Records where they’ve fed spoken word dialogue by William Shatner into the grooves. Subtle and lovely.

14. Rene Geyer – It’s a mans world (RCA, 1974)
Yet another female funker who had a long and successful career in her own country. This features a wonderfully overaught version of the James Brown classic as well as a version of Issac Hayes’ Do your thing.

15. Stratusphunk – Bruce Clarke (Cumquat, 1974)
This one isn’t cheap to pick up but its a wonderfully 70’s jazz rock fusion in the days when analogue synths ruled. Clearly influenced by Bitches Brew, Three Seconds is the key track.

16. Coleen Hewett (Festival, 1972)
Colleen Hewett came from Bendigo in Victoria. Starting as a pop singer with local bands, she later branched out into acting and was part of the cast for the Australian production of musical Godspell. Her self titled first album featured songs from the show and a bluesy cover of Help by the Beatles.

17. Don Burrows – The Brazilian Connection (Cherry Pie, 1978)
Intriguing fusion of one of Oz’s premier jazz quintet’s and Brazilian guitarists Burnier & Cartier and recorded live in Sydney and Canberra. Features jazz legends George Golla and Tony Ansel.

18. Cross Purposes – Various Artists (Unison)
Compilation of 70’s christian happy clappy stuff with some surprisingly funky numbers – not least by Anne Shelton and the Intrumentals. Think Wicker Man in Adelade…

19. Daly Wilson Big Band feat. Kerrie Biddell (Elephant, 1975)
More stalwarts of the scene – famed for their sponsorship by Benson and Hedges cigarettes (hard to imagine Kate Nash being sponsored by Lambert and Butler nowadays…). Biddell features on four tracks – most notably City Sounds.

20. The Brian Brown Quartet – Upward (Phonogram, 1977)
Mellow, but melodic jazz fusion. Brown’s soprano sax soaring over the rest of the band. Kind of reminds me of Weather Report or something like that. Wonderfully experimental.

This material should not be reproduced in part or whole without permission of the author.

April 2009

Friday, 8 January 2010

Interview with Sidney Barnes of Rotary Connection - April 2006

You may not know Sidney Barnes’ name but you almost certainly own some of his records. Throughout a forty year career Sidney has worked as a song writing partner to both George Clinton and Charles Stepney, supported both Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones and acted as a musical mentor to, amongst others, Donnie Hathaway, Chaka Khan and Minnie Ripperton, as well as putting his name and voice to some of the most celebrated northern soul records ever in I hurt on the other side and What can I do?.

Sidney lives a quiet life now, in North Carolina, a million miles away from the recording studios of Detroit, Chicago and New York where he was at the heart of the funk and soul movements of the 1960’s and 70’s but he is an easy, outgoing man, happy to share his story and continuing to record as well as write his autobiography.

How did you get into music?

I grew up in West Virginia and started out liking country getting into Gene Artry, Mel Torme, Perry Como, Nat King Cole, Johnnie Ray and then from there into Sam Cooke and the whole soul thing.

My family moved to Washington DC and I knew there was a scene. I would hang backstage at the Howard Theatre where a lot of the black acts played. My parents were really supportive of my career and then moved to New Jersey and I could visit New York where I was able to get into the business.

And then you ended up at Motown?

Yes, I heard Berry Gordy was setting up a branch in New York and my band (the Serenaders) got signed.

And that’s where you met George Clinton, right?

Yeah, working with George was one of the best experiences of my life. We were in the same pocket. I started to work in the studio with Parliament once they signed and we went to Detroit. George was a fast worker in the studio but witty too. I worked with him on the tune Heart Trouble (1966). I admire him a lot.

How did you end up at Chess?

I was in Detroit with George and Andre Williams. Andre had a deal with Chess and took me along for a few sessions. I stuck around and did a few sessions for Muddy Waters and others. Billy Davies at Chess asked me to write a rock album and it’s my greatest regret that I turned it down but Muddy started working on Electric Mud and because I was known as the rock dude they asked me to write a song. I wrote a song about the underground newspapers of the day (Herbert Harper’s Free Press News) and played some percussion and things.

How did Rotary Connection come about?

By this time Leonard Chess had given his son Marshall Cadet Records and Marshall had this idea of getting a mixed soul and rock group together.

At first, Marshall would produce, Richard Evans was the arranger and Charles (Stepney) was a copyist. He would write the horn parts, that sort of thing. It wasn’t until the second and third albums until Charles took over the production completely. The idea was that we would take the hits of the day and rearrange them. I was really into the Beatles and had written Turn me on which made it onto the album. (Rotary Connection 1967)

And Minnie was a secretary before joining the band?

Yes, at first she didn’t do the high thing because everyone was into Aretha Franklin sounding voices but the first time she did it in the studio we were just sat looking at each other thinking what the hell is that? We saw this as a gimmick we could use but she took some convincing.

How did Charles work in the studio?

He was so engrossed in the orchestration and arrangements. He wasn’t really a collaborative producer and hated rock n roll. He wanted this 5th dimension thing. He could be pretty hard on the musicians but everyone was able to pitch in ideas and it was a lot of fun. We would have 20-30 pieces in the orchestra so there was a lot of joking too. Despite the number of musicians we would only have a couple of takes for most songs.

What was it like playing as a live act?

Very different. Where Charles was the leader in the studio, we couldn’t replicate a lot of the arrangements live, so inevitably I took on more of a leadership role for the live thing. The first gigs we did were in Chicago at Aaron Russo’s place downtown. I had to take Minnie shopping to get the wigs and tie die garb. She wouldn’t do the high thing so the first night Charles used a theramin, by the time we were through the place was goin crazy so she agreed to do it the next night.

Of course, people were dropping acid and mescalin and there were strobe lights and everything and when she did it they’d freak so she’d do it some more and they’d freak some more! After that we were signing autographs and doing radio.

You played with everyone at that time

Yeah, we turned down Woodstock but we did the Texas Pop festival to 90,000 and that was a ball though someone tricked me into taking a load of downers and I collapsed. It was certainly an experience! I remember the Butterqueen was there (infamous groupie who supposedly used butter to pleasure her conquests). It was wild. We played with everyone.1968-69 were the golden years although we later found out that our booking agents were robbing us.

What do you consider the best Rotary Connection record?

I think either the Christmas album (Peace 1968) or Songs (1969). Minnie hits some notes on We’re going wrong which I’m sure no human has never hit before or since. The kids on the cover were Marshall’s son and Charles’ daughter.

Did you encounter issues as a mixed race group?

We had some promotion in Wisconsin but it wasn’t as integrated down there so we only sent the white part of the group to promote the record. Of course, without me and Minnie it didn’t sound so good so they came back! In general though, for me, it was actually better. The white acts generally got better venues.

How did your involvement with Rotary come to an end?

It all went downhill after Songs. Leonard Chess had died and the new record company didn’t really know what we were about and how to promote us. We were all fighting each other because we didn’t have any money. Charles was also getting touchy in the studio. Everyone was telling him he was a genius and I wanted my own publishing company so I quit. Minnie was also wanting to do her own thing by then, she had a lot of ideas but Charles didn’t really want to hear them, although she came back for the Hey Love album.

You worked with Minnie again though?

Yes, she called me up once she had moved down to Florida with Dick (Rudolph – her husband and fellow band member). When she went on the road I would be her back up act. She was a little nervous at first when she went solo but after a while she was a really good performer. I watched her grow up from a little girl into a real diva.I did a couple of tours with her when she was having chemotherapy, there were times where she couldn’t move her arm when she was performing. I remember us both crying at each other at the mic when we sang Back down memory lane one time. She even talked about putting Rotary Connection back together and we talked about who could do the arrangements (Charles had died in Chicago in 1976) but I knew that it wouldn’t happen because she was so ill.

And you and Charles worked together again?

Maurice White and Charles wanted to put together an act sort of based upon Rotary Connection. At first they wanted to call it Salty Pepper. Maurice didn’t want to sing and I’d worked with Maurice on a Deniece Williams record. He wanted either me or Philip Bailey to sing in this group. I said, you get Phillip – the rest is history. The band became Earth, Wind and Fire. Maurice used the whole production thing Charles had used.

Do you think Rotary Connection’s work stands up today?

Sure, I was reading an interview with Elton John in Billboard and he was saying that he got the idea for fusing popular and classical music through Charles Stepney’s arrangements. There has been a real resurgence of interest in the last few years. People now are inspired by the people who were inspired by us. I think Rotary Connection was the right thing at the right time and some of those records are pretty fucking wild!

When did you first know that your solo recordings were so big on the English Northern Soul scene?

I’d heard things as far back as the 60’s – Marvin (Gaye) and Edwin Starr both told me my records were being played over there but it was in 2001 when I got a call from (legendary Northern Soul DJ) Ian Levine, I got on the internet and was really surprised at the interest in songs like Standing on Solid Ground. Ian sent a crew over to take some shots and then I was asked to do a show at the Dome. I’ve been over dozen’s of times since. I love playing Cleethorpes. I’m always amazed at all the stuff they know about me.

What are you doing now?

I still write. I will be releasing a CD later in the year and there is a song on there I’ve done with George. There is also a song called I remember Minnie. The Single Your old lady turns me on comes out in July and I’ll be doing a few shows in North Carolina.

Tom Berry is a DJ and journalist living in London

This material should not be reproduced in part or whole without permission of the author.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Albums of the year etc....

Top 10 albums

1. Merriweather Post Pavillion – Animal Collective

Possibly not even my personal favourite album of the year (although certainly the most listened to) – bits of it annoy me sometimes (the whinny vocals and the lack of bass) but without a doubt the most forward looking and important. It was released in January and I knew straight away it would be hard to top. One of those albums where I can never decide which is my favourite song because there are about 10 contenders. This album works in spring, summer, autumn and winter and could just be one of the most important albums of the decade.

2. Phenominal HandClap Band – Phenominal Handclap Band

I love this but don’t really expect anyone else to – its exactly the sort of music I like – psychadelicly inflused disco with a twist. Take a Loft classic, sprinkle with Primal Scream, Rotary Connection and Malcolm McLaren and viola – an album for a party or home listening. No other album sounded like this this year (although a few from 1977 might!)

3. Mos Def – The Ecstatic

In a year where once again hip hop offered very little (OK Raekwan’s album I accept but Doom was dull, NASA was cluttered and the commercial side of things was just depressing) it was left to one of my old favourites to show us the way. Brilliant production and brilliant rapping is all you need for a great hip hop album and this had both. Starting with really imaginative use of Turkish Psych goddess Selda, shortly followed by the best hip hop song in years in Auditorium (his rapping on this track is immense) and still room for a Spanish love song – this was bursting with fresh ideas and made me think I should search out his mysterious third album as the other three are all brilliant. Well done Mos – stick to the music!

4. Biblio – Ambivalence Avenue

My first impression of this was ‘hey, another singer songwriter folktronica album’ but after a while it really got under my skin. Hints of Trumpton and Camberwick Green, Badly Drawn Boy and then, rather unexpectedly, Sly and the Family Stone. A couple of the tracks in particular have a really funky groove. One to watch and proof that Warp have still got it.

5. XX – Self titled

Contrived yes and ultimately the sort of indie I hate (miserable blokes with black eyeliner with guitars – see also the Horrors) but what set this apart for me was two things. First, the production – it lifted these songs so they really spoke to you (and sounded great on the radio). Almost an R&B production for an Indie album – interesting. Second, the fact they had both a male and female vocalist – the interplay and combinations kept this really interesting sounding. I unexpectedly liked this as I really wanted to hate it!

6. Bill Callaghan – I wish I were an Eagle

Fucked up singer songwriter (see also Mark Laneghan, Johnny Cash). I’ve not actually heard any of his previous work (he used to be in Smog apparently) but read a review of this and downloaded it (I don’t actually buy CDs any more). It is truly excellent – the same sort of mature songwriting you might associate with those named above or even Lord Cave. Lyrics about love and nature set to simple guitar and beautiful string arrangements – sounded really good as the leaves turned on the trees...

7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz

Again, I’ve not heard their previous work and probably should have. This is basically LCD soundsystem with a female vocalist e.g. great synths, strong hooks and the feel of downtown Manhatten. At least two classic singles (Zero, Heads will Roll) and a really beautiful tender ballad (Runaway) – Karen O is clearly one of the most charismatic front men (sic) in popular music and would eat that little twat Casablancas for breakfast.

8. El Michaels Affair – Into the 37th Chamber

A simple idea well executed – funk versions of Wu Tang Clan Songs. Little kids singing shimmy shimmy ya was the track everybody navigated to but Cream and Duel of the Iron Mics were just as good. I increasingly like albums that are kept simple if the quality can be maintained (Nicole Willis springs to mind from a few years back).

9. Staff Benda Bilili – Tres Tres Fort

All the hype was about the fact they are all disabled and that the young fella had invented his own instrument but this is an album that stands out on its own merits. A number of songs the sort of tempo of Buena Veista Social Club (suggesting potential crossover) and then some great afrobeat numbers including instant classic J’taime. These sort of acts (e.g. African) should be getting a lot more media coverage given the constant quality they provide...

10. The Phantom Band – Checkmate Savage

An annual list from me would not be complete without an album the sounds like the Beta Band and this is this years entry. Somewhat ironically I saw them precede the Aliens at the Green Man festival and I thought these guys edged it. Interesting guitar music – simple as really...

Best 3 songs:

Harry Patch (In memory of) – Radiohead

The only band in the world who could have done this and pulled it off (could you imagine the idea in the hands of U2 or Coldplay fer kristsakes!). The first time I heard it I cried. Johnny Greenwood’s arrangement is beautiful and a fitting tribute to an extraordinary man.

2. Mos Def – Auditorium

The best hip hop track in years – a Madlib production, a mellow groove and the best analysis of the post 9/11 world in a song so far – perfect.

3. Baby – Phenomenal Handclap Band

This reminded me of Rotary Connection – I had a vision of a huge black man with white robes and an afro singing this until I saw PHB live and realised it was actually sung my a skinny white guitarist with a soft perm...

Close but no cigar – Sea within a Sea-The Horrors, Aidy’s got a computer - Darkstar

Fave film released this year:

The Hurt Locker – powerful drama telling the story of ego driven American bomb defusers in Iraq and the best Iraq War drama yet.

Honourable mentions – Let the Right One in, Looking for Eric

Best Rediscovery of the year:

Found this really hard – I rarely go back to old stuff, preferring to find new..two I discovered for the first time (which were in my collection) were Deja Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and The Who by Numbers.

Best Compilation:

In a very strong year, I have to go for the Huge Psychadelic compilations by Amorphous Androginous. Every form of psychedelic music put through the blender to create something new and directly responsible for the end of Oasis – ask Noel! Buy these CDs...could be two of the best DJ mixes of all time...

Honourable mentions – Hyperdub 5 – quality Dubstep, Legends Of Benin - Analogue Africa 5 – you might have noticed I like African Music!

Best Re-issue:

Kraftwerk’s back catalogue – not that I bought any of it!

Best artwork / packaging

For packaging, the aforementioned Legends of Benin – nicely put together, I’m a sucker for a booklet! For artwork, there was something about the Dirty Projectors album I really liked – simple but it stood out...

Best mix

Andy Votel – B Music Mix – weird music from around the world... but hung together well

Best old music discovered this year:

Manfred Mann – Chapter 3

I’d been aware of the proto-primal scream ‘One way class‘ track for a few years from various compilations but it was great to discover that the whole album is a winner. Progressive psychedelic jazz rock from (some of) the people who previously bought you do-wa-diddy.

Mingus Ah Um – Charles Mingus

I got proper into jazz this year following watching a documentary on BBC4 which featured this heavily – subtle but powerful. John Coltrane’s Crescent was another favourite...

Nina Simone compilation made by my amte Will

I think Sinnerman might be the greatest song I’ve discovered since Les Fleurs...

Best magazine:

Wax Poetics but I have increasingly been enjoying Songlines – a world music mag with excellent design values.

Hero of the year:

Massive props to Barack for sticking to his guns on healthcare but I think its got to be Harry Patch, world war 1 veteran, for dying with real dignity and refusing to be seen as the brave soldier the media wanted him to be...

Villain of the year:

Nick Griffin and the Cunts of Leon – let em fight it out I say...

Most hyped:

Beatles – Rock band – I mean its a computer game for fucks sake..does it really need a 10 page feature in every magazine?!

Runner up: True Blood – yeah its fun but some of the acting is hopeless! (I still watch it every week...)

Best gig of the year:

1. Baaba Maal – Warwick Arts Centre

In a year of fantastic African gigs (Mariam and Amadou, Staff Benda Bilili) this was the stand out. It started as an acoustic jam and ended with the whole audience dancing like madmen. Maal has such charisma and like Goldfrapp last year, he understands how to perfectly pace a set. Go see some African acts people, they are fantastic (at least the ones I saw were!)

2. Spiritualized – Barbican

A wonderful performance of what must surely be one of the best albums of all time. I honestly can’t think of another record that packs the same emotional punch. Thirty people on stage to create a dysfunctional, smack addled symphony and then finished off with Silent Night of all things! Wonderful

3.=The Horrors – Camden

Great to see a band still on the way up rather than already playing Brixton Academy (although surely that awaits). Shades of My Bloody Valentine, Psychadelic Furs and Primal Scream but full of charisma and a guitar band that ‘mean it’. Oh to be fifteen (although then I’d probably like My Chemical Romance!)

3.= Metallica – O2 arena

I took my 15 year old son and we both loved it. Suitably bombast but the best bit was the very end where they played punk covers in a boxing ring in the middle of the arena – they still rock better than bands half their age.

Fave DVD watched:

It has to be Mad Men – great storylines and beautifully shot. Every man in marketing wants to be Don Draper (maybe)

Fave book read:

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell – I actually wanted to know more about the life of Henry VIII after reading this – brilliant characterisation and a well deserved Booker winner.

Best TV:

Really enjoyed the Thick of It

Best website:

Loving Spotify but it means I will buy very few CDs ever again...In terms of content websites I really enjoyed Fact magazine’s best of features and still loyal to Very Good Plus...