Festive 5 and a bit

December 23, 2010

Back in the day (I have to stop saying that!) by far the most exciting part of the Christmas build-up (apart from the Blue Peter advent calendar) was listening every night to John Peel’s Festive 50 (I didn’t get out much). Especially in the late 70’s when it really was out with the old – Stairway to Heaven, Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun, and in with the new – Pistols, Clash, Stiff Little Fingers, The Jam, Siouxsie et al. The revolution may not have been televised, but the end of year roll call sure meant we could listen to it on the radio. I’d religiously tape every show on a crappy old radio cassette. I still have them somewhere, rotting probably, with no cassette to play them on any more.

Uncle John is still sorely missed, but I thought I’d fill the  void by polling the indieanorak household for their top tunes of 2010. I’ve edited it down to the best half dozen (kicking out anything Glee related). So here are the best tunes of 2011 – as voted by family anorak:

6. Crystal Castles – Celestia

5. JonsiGo Do

4. Delphic Counterpoint

3. Beach HouseZebra

2.Gorillaz featuring DaleyDoncamatic

1. SwansReeling the Liars In

Now there have been allegations of vote rigging, but these have been looked into and the vote has been declared valid. (How can the best song from the first  album in 14 years from New York’s finest not be the best track of 2011?)

So happy Christmas from everyone at indieanorak. Take it away Michael…

 

When I was a raincoat wearing student, way back when, I’d spend far too many evenings hunched over a pint in a seedy north London pub arguing with my mate Nigel about which was the best debut album, Crododiles or Unknown Pleasures. Sometimes things would get a bit heated. God knows what the old soaks in the pub made of two floppy haired fops getting emotional in the corner. But for some reason this seemed really important. Hell, it still does.

I was reminded of this tonight when All that Jazz came on the radio as I was doing the washing up.  Its still sounds good, better than good, brilliant even. My God – was I wrong? Have I been wrong all these years?  I’ve always been such a  fundamentalist in my steadfast belief that Unknown Pleasures was, is, the best debut album by anyone ever. But is my faith as blind as that of an ayatollah?

So I went back to the beginning, or tried. I revisited both albums as if I’d never seen or heard them before.

It had to be the vinyl versions. Unknown Pleasures was easy to find, sitting as it always has at the front of my record collection. Year zero. But where was Crododiles? Where were the Bunnymen in my order of merit? Behind the Fall – no. After Cabaret Voltaire – no, not there either. Surely not behind Theatre of Hate? Further and further back, until lurking behind The Doors I found it. As if to prove a point I’d hidden it at the back of my collection.

I held them both, examined the covers, trying to get in touch with my 16 year old self handling them for the first time. Both strike a cord with my impressionable young self. Crocodiles for Mac’s  pose and his thousand yard stare, and the coats, always the long coats. Unknown Pleasures for the iconography and mystery. Both bands were myth-making, even then, consciously or not.

I drop Unknown Pleasures onto my dusty turntable. Outside first, of course. The opening drum, bass and fractured guitar of Disorder sounds as good as it did in the dark bedroom where I lay and listened to it  30 years ago. Insight, New Dawn Fades, She’s Lost Control, Shadowplay, right through to I Remember Nothing , still sound as vital, claustrophobic and starkly beautiful as they did then. More so,maybe.  Hannett’s production sharp as razor-wire.

So to Crocodiles. Side one starts strongly with Going Up and builds to a crescendo with Monkeys and Crocodiles. Side two is even better – Rescue, Villiers Terrace, Pictures on My Wall and All That Jazz, classics all. Only the last track, Happy Death Men is a disappointment.

So what have a learnt in the 30 years since both albums were released? That they are both classics and arguing over which is the best is as futile as trying to choose between Picasso and Michelangelo, Pele and Cruyff, Kylie and Dannii.

I can only thank God that I grew up in a time when these two great works of art were created.

It’s nearly 30 years since I first saw the Fall, round about the time Hex Enduction Hour was released. That was a cold winter night too, but in a bleak northern city, when we were all younger men (the Fall audiences are always men).

I’ve seen them many times since, but not for a good few years, so I didn’t know what to expect from the 2010 version of the Fall.

The first thing I notice is how freaking gnarly the audience is. Whatever the opposite of ‘beautiful people’ is – this is it. The crowd look like they’d been rounded up from all the betting shops in the South West. So it must make them all feel better when they see the fucking state old MES is in these days. He always claimed the gift of second sight, so when he sang ‘The Man Whose Head Expanded” way back when, little could he have known he was singing about his future self as a hydrocephalic hunchback. The only thing more startling than the man’s physical decline, is the stunning beauty who is now on keyboards, Brix having been traded in for a younger model. Don’t ask me how.

Is it worth mentioning the rest of the band? I’ve no idea who they are. Ever since those old retainers Craig Scanlon and Steve Hanley decided they’d finally had enough, I’ve tended to ignore the ever changing band members. The remarkable thing, though, is that they still sound like the Fall.  Maybe MES was right when he claimed “if it’s me and your granny it’s still the Fall”

As usual the set was made of of mostly new tracks, but these sounded as good as anything in the Fall canon. And as usual we were treated to an unexpected old classic – in this case a real gem, “Muzorewi’s Daughter” from the 1978 album Dragnet – a track I haven’t heard for years.

Any other band with such a track record – ‘check the guy’s track record’ would be churning out the old crowd pleasers, but credit to the man, he remains as uncompromising as ever. And like that other great autodidact WB Yeats, he continues to produce great work in his later years – check out the last two albums if you don’t believe me.

For the best part of my life the Fall have been an education, an inspiration. In a world of ever growing banality they remain crucial.