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20 favourite albums (in no particular order): #10 Beth Orton: ‘Trailer Park’ (1996)

9 Jul

beth_orton-trailer_park-front

My introduction to the music of Beth Orton sticks in my mind as it was quite random and quirky. I was stood in the local WH Smiths looking through some music magazine (that detail escapes me) and a female friend I knew from the local indie-rock club appeared next to me, saying ‘Hello’. She then spots a photo of Beth Orton in the magazine and tells me, “Oh, that’s Beth Orton. She’s great. She also looks like you, if you were a woman”.  Before I had chance to respond to this amusing and mildly audacious opinion, my friend said, “she’s great, you should give her a listen”. Gender swap considerations aside, I did, and nearly 20 years later I’m still listening.

Beth’s original mixture of folk and electronic is now a bit blasé, I suppose, in the sense that everybody else has done it since, but taken on its own merit this album still satisfies. At this point in her career Beth had already recorded a song written by her idol John Martyn (“I don’t wanna know about evil”), and Martyn’s influence looms large on Trailer Park, with the style never being completely folk, but blending into a beautiful ‘other’. The combination of acoustic guitars and beats leans more to the traditionally folky than the dance arena, despite the input of Andrew Weatherall and William Orbit. So Trailer Park is essentially a folk record, and its modern trappings don’t detract for a second from the fact that it’s a very British folk product; even the American desert landscapes in the videos can’t dilute that

The opening track “She cries your name” always evoked images of surf battered Scottish islands to me, and the slightly eerie sound staging used to put me in mind of a more electronic Wicker Man soundtrack. It’s a highlight of the album, and while Beth has always been lyrically vague, being able to project your own interpretation onto some of her songs has always been something of a pleasure.

The clichéd appraisal of Trailer Park was that it was the mid to late ‘90s clubbers album of choice when on a ‘come down’ after a night of raving. I’d say Trailer Park has more to offer than that, and remains an engrossing listen whatever your state of mind and body. Beth would follow this up with a more accomplished album (1999’s Central Reservation) and her talent has matured nicely over the two decades since. Still, Trailer Park still offers an aural comfort blanket of considered calm, and Beth’s sometimes fragile and haunting vocal gives the ambiguous lyrics some touching human quality. Trailer Park is an album that isn’t often shouted about, but one that I don’t think suits such bawdy advertising.  Go and give it a listen and you’ll be eagerly captured by its quiet charms.

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Beth Orton’s sixth studio album ‘Kidsticks’ was released on ANTI Records on the 27th May 2016.

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying, and love ABBA.

30 Jul

abba

As a child, although I didn’t fully realise it at the time, music was a contentious subject in my family. At an age where I didn’t think of such things, my parents had already pitched their flag in the cultural landscape of conservative (in a political as well as musical sense). In this middle of the road, anything from the mid ‘60s onwards was often viewed with an element of suspicion. If a music artist was male and had a good classic voice, they were acceptable to my mother’s ears (Tom Jones was about as radical as she got). The Beatles, incidentally, where shunned, and still are, no matter how many accolades they get. My Dad’s taste was broader, but his nostalgic affinity with the ‘40s Big Band sound eclipsed any possible awareness of then current sounds. The counter cultural revolution of the late ‘60s was the epitome of everything wrong with the younger crowd. Older than the average parents for my generation, Mum and Dad’s entertainment tastes were firmly rooted in the 1950s and early ‘60s.

There was an exception, however; a contemporary music act who my parents happily tolerated, even if they rarely bought their music. I speak of a band with a name I could remember mainly as it was a simple and potentially meaningless moniker:  ABBA. Through some act of immunity, this artist’s music escaped the culture filter that parents often unknowingly surround their young children with. So this band came to my attention at a very young age, and became my first musical love. In honesty, their place in my affections has not dimmed in over thirty years, no matter how seriously or fervently I’ve pursued other musical attractions. They also rose above any other sounds I was hearing at that time, by pure virtue of their unique qualities; qualities that at such an impressionable age are likely to cause a second listen. They sounded harmonious, catchy and oddly different. I didn’t really know what the female voices were singing about either, except it sounded vaguely glamorous and grown up, sometimes slightly forbidden. Only now, do I appreciate how adult ABBA are. They didn’t concern themselves much with the usual deviant topics of rock n’ roll, but rather the more mature themes of marriage, divorce and sometimes (let’s be frank) sex. However, by ‘sex’ I mean the grown up responsible kind, not usually the kind the likes of AC/DC may have been screaming enthusiastically about. Still, ABBA could do frisky. ABBA aren’t obviously the most sexual group out there, but listen to the Glam rock stomp of “Rock me”. They’re not singing about ordering pizza. Elsewhere, the group could actually be downright silly. Whereas “Summer Night City” positively reeks of beer and sex, the likes of “Bang-A-Boomerang” tread a bold lyrical path on the edge of the ludicrous. Continue reading

For the love of Kate

17 Oct

Always a beautiful woman, but still not what your usual pop star looks like (quite in keeping with how she sounds).

There are some musical artists that defy categorization and their very uniqueness is the thing that caught your attraction in the first place. This keeps you going back to them every few years, like a puzzle that you’ve not quite solved or a book where there is still an unread chapter. With Catherine Bush, there always feels like something to go back for, even if it is just to gain a reminder of what caught you in her spell in the first place.

It’s as true for Kate Bush as any other pop star, perhaps more so, that once you become a fan of her music you can’t really go back to the state of affairs before you heard her. She clearly doesn’t sound very much like anybody else (except some who came after her) and her music treads such a fine line between whimsy, lunacy and the downright odd that it’s often easy to lose sight of how good her material is, and how thought provoking and occasionally life affirming her music and lyrics can be. At least two of her singles (“Wuthering Heights” and “Running up That Hill”) were so unlike anything heard in the top ten before that they must have caused people to double take their attention and catch themselves; who is this and what is she singing about? So, once a Kate fan, forever a Kate fan I would say, because even the overplayed singles keep on giving, rewarding you with a fresh surprise years after you last heard them. Perhaps the only pity for fans is that she hasn’t toured since 1979, perhaps due to the death of her 21 year old lighting director Bill Drummond, although I suspect it is more to do with the huge work and exhaustion involved in getting the final show just right. With this being Kate Bush, the tour wasn’t just an average tour, it was a full mixed-media performance piece. Whatever the reason it looks unlikely she’ll tour again (barring the occasional live appearance), but with Kate you just never know.

Kate Bush in 2011- The Sexy Clown look is obviously a new image.

If you’re reading this you probably know the Kate Bush story by now- how the teenage Bush was ‘discovered’ by Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour, wrote much of her first album when she was at school, stood up to the big wigs at EMI so they would release her choice of song as her first single (the chart topping Bronte inspired “Wuthering Heights”). Her idiosyncratic image and music quickly got her noticed and late ‘70s Britain really took to her, culminating in her 1979 TV Christmas special and further success in Europe, Japan and Australasia, among many other places. In the United States she would have to wait a little longer for mainstream recognition, although she would remain very much a cult star. By the time she released her defining work and knocked Madonna off pole position (1985’s album Hounds of Love) she was just 26. Continue reading