British television in the 1990s was deluged with countdowns. The 100 greatest cartoons, the 20 best cheesy 80s hits, and so on. It was a very popular format that was clearly cheap to make (just interview ten talking heads about public nostalgia and splice it with archive footage). And I vividly remember critic A.A. Gill, somewhere in this very British nostalgia-fest (I forget exactly where), being asked when television’s ‘golden age’ was, and replying: “Television hasn’t been around long enough to have a ‘golden age’.” I thought it was a particularly good reply, although I was to find out later that Gill had a personal reason for being exasperated by the notion: his father, Michael Gill, producer of the BBC’s first landmark documentary series Civilisation is often credited with creating it. Continue reading

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: I have never used Tinder, or any online dating service, and have no desire to do so, having been married now for a couple of years. But a conversation with a friend a couple of weeks ago reminded me how hard the process is. And every once in a while H and I will go and see a film or talk to friends or do something that will be all about the complexities of making relationships work, and we’ll both be reminded how lucky we are in just not needing to spend a huge part of our lives devoted to that. (H, on reading this, of course said “Well, now you’ve cursed us…”) That line from When Harry Met Sally: “Tell me I’ll never have to be out there again”.

When I was single I was constantly asking myself: is it always this difficult? And now I’m not, I feel like the answer is: for most of us, most of the time, yes. But yet… I really feel it shouldn’t be. Continue reading

‘Stayin’ Alive’ – The Martian by Andy Weir

We all have stories that we can come back to again and again and never be tired of. I have watched the film Jaws at least 100 times, but could happily sit down to watch it right now. I could read M.R. James’s short stories. I could read John Le Carré’s Tinker Sailor Soldier Spy. And the latest addition to this canon of so-good-I-never-get-sick-of-it is a 2011 book that became a huge Hollywood movie hit with critics and the box office alike: The Martian by Andy Weir.

All of these stories have one thing in common: aside from great characters or great writing or great insight, they are also good old-fashioned ‘cracking yarns’. They have a simple story that pulls you in and sweeps you along. The premise of The Martian can be summed up in a couple of sentences: astronauts on a Mars mission, fleeing a storm, have to abort and leave the planet, but they leave one behind. Botanist and mechanical engineer Mark Watney, finding that (as the movie tagline puts it) “help is only 140 million miles away”, has to survive long enough for NASA to rescue him, if they even can. Continue reading

This month I thought I’d try to put down in words quite why making traditional music has been such a headache for me over the years.

In fact, it occurred to me today that I have written an extraordinarily small number of songs in the last 10 years, and a large part of that has been that so much of my songwriting energy has been taken up in trying to record and perform English traditional music in a way which, to me, doesn’t sound shit. It has taken up so much time in trial and error. Mainly error. And I feel I’m only really starting to make progress on this.

First, let’s just quickly get the whole folk vs traditional thing out of the way. Continue reading

“Well, they sparkle now, okay?”

Things that I want to write Eulogize This articles on tend to fall into a number of categories. There’s ‘things that I think readers might not be aware of. There’s also ‘things that readers are probably familiar with, but here is hopefully a new perspective on why they are so great’. And then there’s perhaps my favourite: ‘things that I think are masterpieces, but that have attracted so much hate that there is a social pressure to casually trash them’. And here comes another in the latter category. Continue reading

‘Big Time Sensuality’

1993 was a good year for innovative and influential popular music. The relatively new innovation of CDs was just starting to do wonders for the music business as a whole. Not only did the new digital sound quality attract new listeners, it also persuaded music fans with vinyl records to buy their favourite albums all over again. This influx of cash meant that record companies could afford to take more risks, and albums started appearing that almost certainly wouldn’t have got record company backing a decade earlier: Pablo Honey by Radiohead and Siamese Dream by the Smashing Pumpkins, Doggystyle by Snoop Dogg and Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) by the Wu-Tang Clan, Rid of Me by PJ Harvey and Modern Life Is Rubbish by Blur, to name but a handful. And on the indie label front, the previous year had seen the release of Artificial Intelligence, a compilation of artists on Sheffield’s WARP Records who would define the cutting edge of Rave-influenced electronic music for the next decade.

Even so, when Björk’s album Debut appeared, it sounded like it came from another planet. Debut, and its ‘sequel’ Post (as in ‘before’ and ‘after’) changed the cultural landscape in terms of how experimental you could be whilst still being mainstream-successful. Every single released from both albums made the Top 40 of the UK singles chart (several made the top 10) and yet the melodies and arrangements were arguably more sophisticated and left-field than anything the cutting edge artists were producing. Before long, remixes of her tracks were circulating from the most respected electronic artists: Black Dog, Underworld, Sabres of Paradise, Graham Massey, RZA, Mark Bell, Talvin Singh, Plaid, μ-Ziq. Even Thom York has cited Björk as a major influence on the Radiohead’s ‘greatest album of all time’. Continue reading