I’ve been asking myself recently “Is there any point to end-of-year lists anymore?”

I mean back in the day our musical focus was narrowed by things like The Top 40, night time radio DJs such as Peel and the music press.

Typically therefore, an end of year list from an outlet within your comfort-zone would be mainly stuff you knew, it was interesting to see what others thought of your personal favourites, especially on things like the festive 50 where listeners sent in their votes, perhaps it would remind you of that single from January that you really liked at the time but had forgotten about, perhaps a couple of artists that had slipped under your radar that you’d make a point of trying to hear.

Take this 1991 50 best album roundup from NME.

I haven’t heard all those albums – at £11.95 for a CD I could only afford so many, and some I wouldn’t have bothered with even if I could afford them, but I’ve heard of all the artists, because they were either in the charts which you couldn’t really escape from even if you wanted to, or played by the likes of Peel or MTV’s 120 Minutes – and I was aware of most of the albums.

Some good stuff there, but no better than the best albums released this year IMHO.

But in the present day with an alleged 11 million artists on spotify – from every era, every genre, every continent, the restrictions on what we get a chance to listen to have been blown away and we are all on our own musical journeys, often with few common threads.

I enjoy discovering new music, but I look at end of year lists with 50, 100, even 250 albums of the year – where I maybe recognise a couple of them, and my own personal favourites aren’t even on the list, so it’s not like I even think “well if they enjoy this album that I enjoy, I might enjoy some of these others”.

If Skating Polly isn’t on there then I obviously can’t take it seriously 🙂

I listened to #1 on a list from a big outlet, an artist I hadn’t heard of before, on first listening I thought it was bland and generic – which doesn’t bode well for me enjoying the remainder of their list. Do they have shit taste or do I? I’m sure it would be productive use of our time to argue the toss, and we’d eventually reach agreement no doubt 😉  Or perhaps we should just move on and continue to enjoy the music we enjoy without worrying about what other people think, breaking the shackles of what self-appointed industry taste-makers and geeky internet folk think is cool.

Thing is, back in the day I was always desperate for something new to listen to, keen not to miss out on some band that I’d never heard of but would instantly love.

I’d scour the reviews in the music weeklies to kill time on the bus to college and at lunchtime, and sometimes they’d make a band sound so interesting that I’d actually go and buy their record since there was no free way to listen to them unless my mates had it, or it came on the radio.

But now, I’ve got more than enough music I love to listen to, maybe amongst that 11 million artists on Spotify there’s another Skating Polly out there – but even if there is, one is plenty, indeed if i had to go to a dessert island with only 1 artist’s music, it’s all I really need!  So I’m not going to wade through 1000s of new albums on the off-chance I might find a second Skating Polly.

I feel that the audience looking for something new to listen to seems to be dwindling, especially as a lot of people my age for example are stuck in the past, convinced nothing new can ever match what they grew up with.

I see how people get into that mindset.  Way back in the 90s, I was only in my 20s and yet I was absolutely convinced that 70s and 80s television was much better than anything being made in the 90s.  The golden era of TV was over, or so I thought.

Fortunately, UK Gold came along – a satellite TV channel setup as a joint venture between Thames TV (who’d lost their ITV franchise a few years earlier) and the BBC to exploit their large archive of old shows.

Initially excited at the prospect, it quickly turned to disappointment as one old favourite after another proved to not quite match up to how I remembered it.

There’s a big difference for example watching George and Mildred when you’re 8 and when you’re 22.  When you’re a kid, the canned laughter can be infectious even when you don’t fully understand the joke, but as an adult it can’t mask the groans of the cheesy jokes you see coming a mile off, even if it has a certain charm about it.

I also realised that when I first saw some of my favourite shows I didn’t always like them.

Take Minder for example – one of my favourite shows of the late 70s / early 80s at the time, but the first time I caught it I was flipping channels (which didn’t take long as there were only 3!) and was excited to see Dennis Waterman, as I thought it was The Sweeney, but I was disappointed when George Cole started making jokes about water damaged umbrellas and frost spoiled fridges, thinking “what the hell is this crap?”.

The next time I caught it, they were in a strip club, and being a curious 11 or 12 year old, with no internet been invented yet and the IBA rarely allowing that kind of thing, I still thought it was rubbish but I kept watching it in case they went back there, and after a while I got into the show in it’s own right, and it was my favourite for a long time.

Once I stopped approaching the then current TV shows from the perspective of “I’ll watch it, but it’ll be rubbish because they don’t make decent shows any more” I found that with an open mind and a little perseverance I actually found lots of shows I enjoyed, and have continued to enjoy new TV shows to the present day.

Whilst I might avoid Saturday night ITV like the plague for obvious reasons, shows such as Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Sopranos and Succession blow anything from past era’s right out of the water!

When it comes to music, for a band to become popular, a lot of people need to hear them, and a lot of the people who hear them need to like them.  But Tom Robinson made a good point in one of his BBC Introducing lectures, and I realised there’s more to it than that.

He pointed out that a lot of bands believe that if he was in a position to get them on tomorrow’s breakfast show on 6 Music, with such a big audience of people who enjoy indie/alternative, that they would instantly become successful.

But he believes it would barely move the needle.

Why?  As he said, people are driving to work, getting kids ready for school, eating breakfast, picking their nose, or whatever.  Most people rarely hear a song and instantly like it.

Every successful music station in the world uses the playlist system where they keep playing the same small selection of tunes, because it works.

The first couple of times someone hears a new tune it might not even consciously register, but after the 4th or 5th time they may notice it and think “Oh it’s that tune again, I quite like it, who is it?” and start down the path of becoming a fan.

If they introduce too many new tunes at once, without familiar tunes as an anchor, listeners would switch off and never get into the new stuff.

Of course these days with so many radio stations, people no longer have to listen to new music, clearly many people actively choose not to when Radio 2 and GHR who play very little new music, are the most listened to stations (in GHR’s case, music from your childhood played by the DJs of your childhood!)

If you grew up listening to BBC Radio 1 as I did, it’s all too easy to turn it on now, not know any of the tunes and think that there’s no decent music being made now.

But if you’d somehow managed to not listen to the radio for a few months back in the day and come back, you’d have thought the same until you started getting into the tunes they were playing.

But…but… autotune I hear you say!  Yeah a good thing artists like, oh Cher for example, never used autotune back in our day!

But…but… that new song is just a stupid phrase repeated over and over.  Yeah obviously it can’t compete with Mouldy Old Dough or Around the World for lyrical excellency.

But… But… today’s songs are full of sexual innuendo.  Yeah and pull up to the bumper was about driving, “my ding-a-ling” was a toy, and George Formby’s little stick of Blackpool rock wasn’t about his dong!  Relax was just welcoming a sailor into the room when he said “come” and “seaman”, Mike Read just had a dirty mind!  Erm, you get the picture!

The idea that past decades were somehow a golden era for music is surely extinguished by old episodes of Top of the Pops.  For every great tune, there’s a lot of dross.  Familiar dross that a lot of people may prefer to listen to over unfamiliar dross, but dross all the same.

IMHO Every era has a mix of good and bad music, whatever your taste, but people generally prefer something they know to something they don’t, and when you’re young you have an enthusiasm that life tends to strangle out of you by the time you hit middle age.

One thing I will say about “back in the day” is that in the 50s, the pop music canvas was relatively blank, and when people like The Beatles and Bowie came along there was still lots of space to innovate.  By the mid-70s the canvas was looking a bit full, but then technology, namely affordable synthesisers that you didn’t have to build yourself, came in, in the late 70s to extend the musical canvas.  Hearing stuff like Gary Numan or Yazoo for the first time, sounded very different to anything I’d heard before – partially because I was young and hadn’t heard of the likes of Silver Apples, and partially because some of it was genuinely new and exciting.

Now most new bands sound a bit like an old band, albeit with lyrics addressing addressing contemporary issues.  But I still prefer to discover something new, over listening to the same old songs decade after decade.

I read a book a while back which was talking about how nostalgia is healthy in small doses, but toxic when it gets out of hand.

Once you convince yourself that your youth was the best era in every respect, and nothing will ever be as good again, you’re condemning yourself never to get the most out of life – simply marking time until you shuffle off this mortal coil, filling your days with selective memory of days gone by, and never again experiencing that thrill when you discover a new band, a new TV show, or new hobby that floats your boat.

Nostalgia’s not what it used to be 😉 The more I see posts about how clean the streets were in the 80s and 90s (back then my mum said the same thing about the 40s and 50s) the more I loathe nostalgia and it’s power to cripple people’s happiness and satisfaction with life, and the more I try to steer clear of it.  Though I do wish I had shares in the manufacturers of rose-tinted glasses!

Nice to look back occasionally, but best to live in and enjoy the present and have something to look fwd to in the future. Dlina Volny and Skating Polly playing live in January for example has me even more excited that I was on Christmas Eve as a child – and I used to nearly pass out with excitement back then!

Anyway… if end-of-year lists are merely pissing against the wind, addressing an audience that doesn’t exist, then why waste my time when I could spend that time for example, discovering some new artists I like or eating mince pies instead?

Quite simply, I enjoy doing it, casting my mind back over the things that brightened up my year despite everything that’s going on in the wider world.

It’s Christmas, another year gone but I’m still here, still finding new things to enjoy and it’s been an amazing year new music if you ask me, so without further ado, it’s time for me share what I’ve been enjoying this year.

You may enjoy it too.  Or you might not.

I’m not going to “break” a new artist in the way that old-school gatekeepers could, but if one person discovers a new (to them) band and it brings them even half the enjoyment they’ve brought me, then my work here has all been worthwhile!

P.S. If you’re ready to take the chance on a newish band with strong 80s influences, you could do worse than buy a ticket for Dlina Volny at the Kazimier Stockroom in Liverpool on 24th January.  If you’re more into a 90s vibe, you can’t go wrong with Skating Polly the following night 25th January at Factory in Manchester, tickets here.  Better still, do both!

 

Singles Of The Year

(In no particular order)

Skating Polly – Tiger at the Drugstore
Chaos County Line is an incredible album, and though I can never pick a favourite from any Skating Polly album because every track is  so good, this song always stands out as SP at their most accessible and commercial.

With Kate Nash (yes, thee Kate Nash!) making the video it looked like a lot of fun to make.

It hasn’t been heard by nearly enough people, so do go and share it!

Meryl Streek – If this is life

Never has the housing crisis (29 year olds still living with their parents) been put so eloquently or so catchily.

SBR Bone and star – X-Succubus

I was recently put on to SBR Bone and star by a friend when looking for a band for a gig.  I inadvertently booked Samantha’s other band, Neon Oracle who I initially thought were too heavy for the night, but it was a fortunate error as the eclecticism of the night really made it for me.  This is an incredible single and I can’t wait to hear more from  both projects by this artist.

Heartworms – Retributions Of An Awful Life

An incredible EP, and this single grabs you by the throat from the beginning and doesn’t let go until the end.  Disappointed they pulled out of This Must Be The Place festival, but I hope to catch them in 24.

Glume – Do Me A Favor

Glume’s debut album was my favourite album of 2021, her second album was very different and it took me a bit longer to get into, but once I did, it really is an amazing album.

Skating Polly – Hickey King

Skating Polly doing what they do best with an absolute belter of a tune, catchy as hell, clever lyrics and unexpected twist in the video, with both Peyton and Kelli’s vocal styles coming together in a truly special track.  Incredible!  If you think it sounds amazing on recording ,wait until you hear it live!  Which I thoroughly recommend you do – they tour the UK in January 2024.

Maisie Peters – Lost the Breakup

Some may be surprised to find Maisie on this list – after all it’s unashamedly pure pop, and since her record label is owned by Ed Sheeran, and for example, she’s performed on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and this appearance on the Jimmy Fallon show, so she has opportunities for exposure that many of the artists in this list will sadly never get.

But… it really is an incredible classic pure-pop single, and I like it, so there!

I actually prefer this version to the single – with less (any?) auto-tune, no “oh shit” refrain (whilst I’m far from easily offended, I don’t think it adds anything to the song) and that funky guitar bit and the “I’m kinda busy like / I’m on Fallon Tonight!”.  Nice!  I was tempted to catch her live when she played in Liverpool, but £35 a ticket seemed a bit on the steep side for an artist I’m just curious about, but a friend and fellow Skating Polly fan in the US caught her there and said it was a great show, so maybe next time if I don’t manage to catch her at a festival or something.

The Filthy Tongues – In These Dark Places

From the lightweight commercial pop of Maisie Peters to literally dark places – The Filthy Tongues (and indeed Martin Metcalfe’s previous bands Goodbye Mr Mackenzie and Angelfish where Shirley Manson started out) have always created memorable tunes with clever lyrics, and yet the success they so richly deserve seems to keep eluding them.  If there were any justice in the world then this song would be absolutely massive.

Jennifer Touch – Sacred Type

There are many ways to discover new artists, but being introduced to a new (to you) artist when they are supporting an artist you’ve booked for a gig, as in this case, is probably a bit niche!

Having booked the incredible Dlina Volny for a gig at Kaz Stockroom Liverpool on 24th January 2024, Jennifer Touch is the tour support, and since the agency sent me the link, I haven’t stopped listening to her music.

Such a great artist, and incredible once again to discover someone so good that I hadn’t even been aware of previously, despite having a substantial back catalogue.  Better late than never as they say, and I can’t wait to see her live.  Might even nip through to Manchester the night before to catch both acts twice.

Everything but the Girl – Nothing Left to Lose

Walking Wounded and Temperamental are 2 of my favourite albums of all time, and one of my few musical regrets is never catching Everything but the Girl live.

Whilst there’s no talk of another tour yet that I’m aware of, I live in hope, as the new album Fuse really continues the sound from those 2 classic albums.

This song really wouldn’t be out of place on Walking Wounded.

 

Albums Of The Year

Skating Polly – Chaos County Line
After a 5 year wait due to the pandemic, Kelli’s vocal chord operation and various other issues, Skating Polly’s 6th album finally got released.  You wait 5 years and get 2 at once – as it’s a double-album!

Whilst it takes a bit of quality time spent with it to get the best out of it due to there being so much going on and an unconventional running order, your effort will be well rewarded with what I firmly believe is one of the best albums of the past decade or even longer.

Glüme – Main Character
Glüme’s debut “The Internet” was one of my favourite albums of 2021.

Whilst this album takes a bit of a different direction and took me a bit longer to get into, it ended up being one of my most listened to albums of the year.

It’s clear that her label, Italians Do It Better, had great plans for Glüme, perhaps in a bid to replace Chromatics as their flagship artist, splashing out on high profile guest stars such as Sean Ono Lennon and Rufus Wainwright, but seemingly they run out of money and they parted company from what I can gather from Glüme’s instagram posts.

It was unfortunate that her UK tour was cancelled, but I live in hope that a 3rd album emerges one day and the UK tour finally happens!

The Dave Howard Singularity – Dark and For Boating

The Dave Howard Singers were the first band I got into after growing out of the Top 40, way back in 1986.  In the past 3 decades, other than releasing the album that should have come out at the time “What your girlfriend threw out, or your friend never returned”, Dave has been rather quiet, until now.

It’s a quirky album for sure, but really follows on from his classic material released back in the 80s and early 90s.

Whether you were, like me, a big fan back in the day, or you’re scratching your head going “Dave Howard who?” I can highly recommend spending some quality time with this album.

Gabriels – Angels & Queens

A bit different to what I tend to listen to, but a solid album that’s hard to fault.

Everything But the Girl – Fuse

Great to hear EBTG back again and on such fine form, fingers crossed for a live tour at some point!

The White Ribbons – Not an Original Bone in our Body

Having been looking fwd to this album since I saw the band at Butlins Alt Fest way back in 2019, I must admit I’ve not listened to it as often as I should, simply because I tend to use Sonos for convenience and the album doesn’t seem to be available on any online streaming services.

I must make more effort to dig out the old school CD, meanwhile my good friend Steve White put it way better than I ever could over on The Punk Site.

 

Army Of Lovers – Sexodus

I’ve never really believed in the term “Guilty Pleasure” I mean if you enjoy something and it isn’t harming anybody why feel guilty just because people who probably have little imagination will point their finger and laugh?

Back in the early 90s I went through a period of being a massive Army Of Lovers fan.  I remember years later speaking to a girl I’d gone out with a couple of times, seemingly instead of chocolates or flowers on our first date I gave her the CD single of Crucified.  Suave! I did wonder why I didn’t get a second date 😉 But she still had it and listened to it regularly!

Their new album was a welcome surprise in 2023, and they haven’t lost any of their winning formula.

Whilst they may be camper than the Eurovision song contest, they are great fun, catchy melodies and creative lyrics.  They are the one “Army” I can support!

New Artists of the Year

Liminal Project

Having performed in France, Dublin, Scotland, London and regularly in Liverpool, their impressive darkwave is winning fans all over.

KK Verfefni

With strong early singles winning fans from around the globe, I look fwd to catching them live in January supporting Dlina Volny and Jennfier Touch in Liverpool.

Neon Oracle

Great songs with something to say, outstanding vocals, great stagecraft and LOUD tunes that impress, I’m looking fwd to see and hear a lot more from this band.

Lexi King

Ok, well she is my daughter so I would be a little biased, but I genuinely think she has a great voice, and the other bands playing on the same night seemed to agree.  Getting up on stage takes a lot of bottle anyway and something I couldn’t do, but doing showtunes at a gig takes even more confidence and despite obvious nerves she pulled it off remarkably well, especially given it was her first gig.  She has a promising future ahead in theatre and music.

Live Performance of the Year

Skating Polly – O2 Academy2 Liverpool
Meryl Streek – Kazimier Stockroom, Liverpool
Treeboy & Arc – This Must Be The Place, Leeds
Loose Articles – Manchester Academy 3
SPAFF – O2 Academy2 Liverpool
Primal Scream – Forwards Festival, Bristol
Scalping/Scaler – Forwards Festival, Bristol
Gabriels – Forwards Festival, Bristol
Diavol Strain – Kazimier Stockroom, Liverpool
Neon Oracle – Quarry, Liverpool

Festival of the Year

Forwards Festival 2023, Bristol
So many festivals seem to have very similar, predictable lineups, so it’s refreshing to find a festival with a genuinely interesting lineup.
There were lots of acts who I’d wanted to see for a while and did not disappoint.  Plus, they booked 4 acts who were later Mercury nominated, including the winner, Ezra Collective – so they clearly have their finger firmly on the pulse.
Set in a great location with a really chilled vibe, it’s a must for 2024.

This Must Be The Place 2023, Leeds
A full day of genuine up-and-coming bands, with the mighty bodega headlining, all for £22?  You really can’t go wrong!
Taking place on the same weekend as Reading and Leeds means that finding somewhere to stay for out of towners isn’t easy, but if you do find somewhere then it really is a superb festival, taking place at the Belgrave Music Hall.

Bearded Theory 2023, Catton Hall
Whilst I didn’t make it to Bearded Theory this year, having been previously, seen the lineup, and spoken to Steve White who’s judgement I trust totally, I am confident that it belongs in this list!

 

Label of the Year

Italians Do it Better

Johnny Jewel’s label must be doing something right.  2 of my 3 most listened to artists this year – Dlina Volny and Glüme were signed to the label, along with Krakow Loves Adana Darkest Dreams which was one of my most listened to albums a couple of years ago.

I think what I like most about their releases is the cinematic nature of their music videos.

 

Special Event of the Year

Abba Voyage – Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Ok, it’s Abba, and it does worry me that this could be the future of “live” music.  I mean the idea of being able to stage a “concert” in every major city in the world simultaneously, several times a day, for as long as there are people wanting to see it, must be getting money people excited.

However, to be honest, it might be my eyesight, but the “band” itself didn’t seem that impressive, the videos on the big screen were more impressive, but sometimes, especially with Agnetha, she sometimes looked a bit “dead-eye”.

But, putting all that aside, what a spectacle!

I might generally prefer my live music in intimate venues with leaking roofs, but to build an arena purely for one show?  That’s got to be impressive.

Whilst tickets were far from cheap, I was impressed that the bar prices were normal pub prices, and merch was generally reasonable.

But what really made it for me was being in a room with enthusiastic people, seeing something out of the ordinary, pushing the limits of technology.

And whilst it’s true I don’t typically listen to Abba at home, they did write some banging tunes, and hearing them on a huge sound system, it was hard not to get goosebumps.  My 9 year old son had to keep leaving the room as he was so overwhelmed.

I wasn’t sure what I’d make of it, but we all loved it and I’d happily go again!

More of a fancy concert movie than a live concert to be honest, sorry money people, might be a while yet before this kind of thing becomes the n0rm!

 

 

And that’s it for another year!

Merry Christmas & a Musical New Year when it comes!

Don’t miss my preview of 2024, and have a great Christmas & New Year!

P.S. Don’t forget your tickets for Dlina Volny and Skating Polly!  You won’t regret it 😉