Category Archives: Music

Richard Shindell’s song The Next Best Western

Let’s just pretend today’s election never happened, and speak of better things.

Around the turn of the millennium, I worked at a small company in North London. We had a shared MP3 server: we all put some of our favourite songs on it, and we could all listen to each other’s. That’s how I discovered the brilliant singer-songwriter Dar Williams, who was the choice of my colleague Andrew Eland. In 2009, reading a review of one of Dar’s albums, I read on to the second half of that article which was about Richard Shindell’s album Reunion Hill. Based on the very positive review, I bought the album and loved it.

The opening song on that album is The Next Best Western, and it quickly became one of my favorite songs: so much so that when in 2011 I started playing and singing in folk clubs, it was the very first song I ever performed. So it’s particularly special to me.

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Head in the Clouds

Our family was away from 24th-31st July, cruising in a boat on the Norfolk Broads. In fact, we were in this specific boat, “Glistening Light”:

During that week, my middle son Matthew had a burst of creative energy, and wrote and recorded an EP of five instrumental tracks (six if you count the very short track “(edited)”), which he titled Head in the Clouds. It’s very sunny, optimistic and quirky.

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How strange the change from major to minor … in Beatles songs

One of the characteristic tricks that crops up in Beatles songs is the use of major and minor chords on the same note. A lot of the Abbey Road album is built on movement between C, its relative minor of A minor, and its tonic major of A major. For example, George Harrison’s gorgeous song Something is mostly in C but modulates to A when the distinctive six-note guitar riff lands on a C# (the third of the A major chord) instead of C natural (the root of the C chord) to go into the middle section (“You’re asking me, will our love grow?”).

Today I want to look at two songs from the Rubber Soul album that both use the same trick of shifting directly from a major chord to its tonic minor, and see how they use that trick similarly and differently.

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What I’ve been listening to in 2018

Here is a YouTube playlist of my now-traditional top-ten list of the albums I’ve listened to the most in the previous calendar year. (See this list of previous entries.)

I listen much more to whole albums than to individual tracks, so each year I pick the ten albums that I listened to the most (not counting compilations), as recorded on the laptop where I listen to most of my music. (So these counts don’t include listening in the car or the kitchen, or on my phone.) I limit the selection to no more than one album per artist, and skip albums that have featured in previous years. Then from each of those ten objectively selected albums, I subjectively pick one song that I feel is representative.

Here they are in ascending order of how often I listened to them. Continue reading

A Thursday in December

Starring Gandalf the Grey.

It’s probably best thought of as a sound collage, and one that I find strangely relaxing.

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Metal Jester at the Marquee in 1991

A few years ago, I wrote about the heavy metal band, Anne Heap of Frogs, that I was the guitarist for in my late teens; and then about Crossfire, the band that come out of that, and some other bits and pieces. But there is one more chapter to the story, and it’s much more impressive.

Trojan Horse, Lick That, Metal Jester

After singing with AHOF and Crossfire, Richard Whitbread went on to front a much more serious band, Metal Jester, which did well enough to get a gig at the Marquee — then, one of the top rock venues in the UK. The layout of the ticket suggests they were third on a bill of three, which would still pretty darned impressive, but as Richard elucidates below, they were actually the main act.

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Genesis: a tragedy in 15 acts. Part 2: the Collins years

Last time, we looked at the first six Genesis albums, with Peter Gabriel in the lead singer role. When he left the band at the end of the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour, things did not look good for the quartet he’d left behind. But they decided to carry on without him, promoting drummer Phil Collins into the lead-vocal slot. Collins would go on to sing lead on eight Genesis albums, two more than Gabriel had — but were they good?

7. A Trick of the Tail (1976)

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