Category Archives: Music
What a year this has been for the passing of true talent. It started in January with a the news of the death of David Bowie, now the latest star to be taken is George Michael, at the age of 53.
The news is particularly poignant having broken over Christmas; a time when Michael’s music is at the forefront of public consciousness due to his widely different – but equally brilliant – festive hits ‘Last Christmas’ and ‘December Song (I Dreamed of Christmas).’
As a big George Michael fan, I have a lot of his albums both as a solo artist and with his band Wham! His was one of the first “grown up” types of music I listened to. Of course, George Michael was an archetypal and inimitable pop star. Alongside his beautifully silky voice and striking good looks he also had a great understanding of music, with political awareness and intelligence. He was the full package.
I love how he could create classics in any type of mood or style. This is particularly evident in the way his greatest hits are arranged in the compilation ’25’, that was released to mark his 25th year in the music industry. One disc is “For Living” and the other is “For Loving”. What comes through in his music is honesty that can really touch your soul. This is particularly evident in ‘Jesus to a Child’, a tribute to his late partner Anselmo Feleppa:
George Michael moved seamlessly from a dance track to a ballad full of sadness. I also enjoyed how he could completely rework and remix works he appreciated and put his own unique stamp on it. Tracks that come to mind are his version of The One’s ‘Flawless’ and how ‘Shoot the Dog’ utilises Human League’s ‘Love Action (I Believe in Love)’ and makes it into a completely different style. Meanwhile, his duet with Mary J. Blige on the song ‘As’ contemporises a Stevie Wonder classic.
Michael’s career shows a musical progression as well demonstrating a wide range of emotions in his work. I think this is one of the reasons why he has had such longevity; his ability to adapt. While writing this blog, I’ve been listening to his interview with Kirsty Young for Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ programme and what strikes is how modern his choice of songs were. He had so much more to give; apparently in the pipeline for 2017 would have been a new album and a documentary.
Alongside George Michael’s copious talent, he was a generous philanthropist. I remember seeing an interview with him saying that he didn’t mind how people accessed his music, as long as they were listening. It’s also the impact he had on other’s lives which adds to this selflessness:
There’s a reason George Michael is one of the most played artists on UK radio, and my own personal collection, because he is one of the the best.
Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou – ‘You Have Been Loved’ and you will be missed.
I will forever remember waking up last Monday morning (January 11th, 2016.) Like most people, I picked up my phone to see the news agenda of the day and there it was – an alert announcing 69-year-old David Bowie had died.
Disbelief; I hadn’t known he had cancer? Is this a nightmare? Surely this was a hoax?
Worldwide mourning followed with many radio stations opting, in the early part of the day at least, to play his songs back-to-back in tribute. Listening to this struck me at how unique this moment must be. To hear an artist’s back catalog and not become disinterested. (The radio industry term being that songs ‘burn’ out after being heard too much.)
From ‘Space Oddity’ to ‘Let’s Dance’, there’s something to suit every musical taste. Not to mention how familiar his dulcet tones or riffs seem, even after a while of not hearing them. I’m not old enough, to have been there in Bowie’s heyday, when Ziggy Stardust took to the stage and from then on. Yet his music sounded as fresh last Monday as some of the most recent chart hits.
It got me thinking, is there anyone in pop culture these days whose ‘Sound and Vision’ will stand the test of time like that? By the very nature of the pop genre it needs to be a one-size-fits all. The concept of the industry is to appeal to as many people as possible in order to maximise sales.
That’s why all of Adele’s songs sound the same, it’d be too much of a risk to deviate from what’s expected. All credit to Justin Bieber; (I never thought I’d write that!) he’s done well in reinventing himself from a rebellious adolescent to someone whose music you don’t have to hide away and listen to secretly in the car (surely, that’s not just me??) Now you can play ‘What Do You Mean?’ loud and proud from those speakers – pump that looping flute up to 11!!!
….BUT will Beiber’s songs have longevity? Will they become anthems in years to come in the way ‘Heroes’, ‘Rebel, Rebel’ or ‘Fame’ is? I don’t have a crystal ball, but I don’t think so. However, maybe you need hindsight for these kind of things.
On top of Bowie’s music being as good as it was unconventional, for the time it was released anyway. It was his fearless approach to being different that cut through to other areas as well. Whether that be fashion or cultural influence to promote a shift of attitudes. I think it’s this that’s helped cement his status as a British pop icon. Bowie’s music can be related to something tangible that resonates beyond the songs you hear.
See this tweet by Preston’s Men Against Violence charity, as an example…
— Men Against Violence (@MAV_Preston) January 11, 2016
This is the antithesis of pop music; it needs to appeal to as many people as possible, remember. I wonder what we’d think if someone like an unknown Bowie released a song in today’s charts. It would probably do very well in the alternative arenas but would it cut through to mainstream?
I’m not saying I want someone to be a carbon copy of David Bowie; there will only ever be one of him, that’s the point. There needs to be someone daring enough to build upon and use their public profile to provoke social change. Who knows what might be able to be achieved.
It’s been a while since my last post and I was thinking of starting it up again. Before Bowie died my focus of the post was going to be Kate Bush. She has a similar unconventional allure that has made her too achieve legendary status. You only have to get past the heavy rotated hits like ‘Wuthering Heights’ (as wonderful an example that is) and listen to her albums. You realise just how beautifully outlandish her discography is too. Long may she release more! There may be many more artists in this vein too, but these are two striking examples, off the top of my head.
David Bowie – a hero for much more than just one day. He may no longer be with us, but his music is immortal. The Starman’s influence has helped drive social change. He has been one of the best ambassadors for British quintessential eccentricity we could ever have wished for.
Now let’s hope some of today’s pop stars use Bowie’s death and rise into social consciousness again to follow this lead. Be that extra bit different: “Turn and face the strange…”
Glastonbury – the festival I’ve never been to but feel like I have due to extensive BBC coverage. This year is no exception; The Rolling Stones headlined. What I was most looking forward to was seeing Chic, featuring my musical hero – Nile Rodgers… but they weren’t on the main stage.
It’s understandable why Glastonbury wanted the Stones on the Pyramid stage; it has been the dream of organiser Michael Eavis to see them perform at his festival and this year it came true. This is something that spans wider than the Somerset fields though, the BBC gave the Stones prominent coverage on BBC2 while Chic’s performance was hidden away on BBC Four – I would have missed it has I not been told it was on. Admittedly I am a massive disco fan, but it’s still a valid point.
I can’t help thinking this is modern day music snobbery that’s a throwback to the attitudes that caused the fateful Disco Demolition Night in July 1979. A baseball match was disrupted in Illinois, USA, and the ‘Disco Sucks’ movement began. This forced the music, flares and mirror balls underground while genres like punk rock started to gain rebellious popularity.
If you listen to the charts you’ll hear disco’s influence everywhere. Nile Rogers has reinvented himself many times to have hits with David Bowie, Madonna, Duran Duran, Sister Sledge, Diana Ross and that’s just naming few. Most recently, of course, is his number one anthem of our summer – ‘Get Lucky’ with Daft Punk. That’s why I think Chic should have had a bigger billing, rather than on the smaller West Holts stage.
Chic lived up to their name, looking classy dressed in white throughout their performance. The Stones, on the other hand, looked frail and past it, with too many breaks for unnecessary costume changes. Judging by this Glastonbury appearance, Maroon 5 surely must reconsider whether it really is all that cool to “move like Jagger” for their hit song. I would have commended Ronnie Wood’s ability to multi-task… had it not been that he was smoking a cigarette while strumming his guitar.
Apart from their more mellow tracks that I play on my radio shows, I’ve never been a fan of the Rolling Stones’ music – it’s just not my cup of tea. Glastonbury was the chance to change all that but it didn’t. The sound quality was awful and I would have been distracted throughout had I not have thought I was watching Spinal Tap instead.
Don’t accuse me of being ageist; I’ve always had an affinity with music that’s not of my generation. Just a few hours ago I got chills hearing Kenny Rogers (no relation to Nile) singing ‘Lady’ and ‘We’ve Got Tonight’ from today’s Glastonbury highlights. Kenny’s older than all of the Stones, yet he still looks and sounds great.
I know the the Stones’ music is legendary and the soundtrack to the lives of many. Credit where credit is due and they probably do put on good shows but I won’t be paying over a £100 to see them. The times I’ve seen Nile Rogers have been priceless.
I read a thought-provoking article the other day by Sophie Heawood: she commented about how our experience of music has changed in this digital age of downloads and streaming. As a Spotify premium subscriber, this resonated with me and I wanted to give my response. To get in the mood I’m listening to some of my guilty pleasures on Spotify as I write this, feel free to join me…
The trouble with digital – streaming music in particular – is that I don’t feel that I own music anymore. Not physically anyway, I literally just pay to listen to it. No doubt it’s saved space; I have racks and racks of CDs in my bedroom that are not getting added to anymore because I can listen to everything I want on my phone.
It’s not just our buying experience that’s different though, the entire way we hear music has changed because of digital. There’s a decline in hi-fis (don’t I sound old!) Instead of these dedicated sound systems, most people listen to music through tinny earphones, laptop or iPad speakers – all of which weren’t designed with sound quality as a priority.
If you want to have a good listening experience I suggest you invest in a good pair of headphones. Walking down the street in a city centre you would think most people have, many people with headphones on their heads will go past you nodding along to the tunes that are whizzing through their ears. Do not be fooled by first impressions! These people don’t care for music; they’re flaunting it as part of an ‘80s throwback fashion craze. That’s because Dr Dre’s colourful Beats headphones are built for style rather than substance. My own headphones are Sennheisers, which sound fantastic, but I wouldn’t want to be seen outside of a studio wearing them!
Is music worth listening to anymore? People are still buying it (or rather, downloading it) in their droves so it obviously hasn’t died – just a bit of my soul has. The chart offerings aren’t just lyrically bland, the music sounds like music that could have been produced in someone’s bedroom… probably because it has been.
Then, out of the blue, came along a smash hit that restored my faith in modern music: Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, featuring Pharrell Williams and produced by my musical hero – Nile Rodgers. That song is the sound of the summer for many. The lyrics leave a lot to be desired, but the reason it sounds so good is because Daft Punk have learnt – and listened – to music from the past. By collaborating with established producers like Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder, they’re adding to a contemporary disco sound being coined nu-disco.
No matter what your taste is, experiencing music is so fulfilling it becomes the soundtrack to your life – so make sure you hear it the way it was supposed to be heard with good quality equipment. Be open minded to explore; don’t just accept what’s played to you in the charts. That’s what Daft Punk did and it got them a number one. Music isn’t just about now; any track you hear will be inspired, in some form or another, by hits heard before. Let’s hope music’s future is just as colourful as its past.
It’s hard to believe that it has been year today since we lost the fabulously talented Amy Winehouse. I remember the moment well; there was a lot of speculation of her death ruminating around Twitter. Hoaxes on social media websites are not unheard of and, as I couldn’t find any viable source confirming her death, I hoped this would be the case. Then I heard the announcement on the radio – Amy Winehouse had died aged 27 at her home in Camden Square, London.
Due to the very intense lifestyle that Amy had lived, the news wasn’t entirely shocking but to lose her at such a young age, in the prime of her life and career, was saddening and such a loss to music.
I had been quite a late follower of Amy’s. Being aware of the buzz that surrounded her, but the music never really registered on my radar. That was until 2008, when I saw her performance of Love is a Loosing Game at the Brit Awards:-
From that moment, I was hooked. It was refreshing to hear an artist subvert the current chart conventions and hear soulful jazz inspired songs hitting the top spot. I instantly wanted to know more and began delving deeper by exploring her albums. What I liked about Amy was her retro vibe mixed with a sharp observational tenacity. You only have to be out at the weekend in a city centre to see life imitating the art as the lyrics from her song F’ Me Pumps unfold in front of you. She wrote lyrics from the heart but kept them current, combining this with musical production and her appearance that had a nice vintage twist, something reminiscent of The Shirelles, Martha and the Vandellas or The Marvelettes from years gone by.
In this superficial world that we live in, plagued by stories of scandal and celebrity, it’s almost too easy to take Amy Winehouse by face value. Rather than the headlines and hearsay that surrounded her career, let’s remember her for the music. The cannon of work that she has left behind is small but impressive. By those high standards, it is a shame that we will never know just how high her star may have risen to had she have lived longer. Amy Winehouse may be gone but her legacy will live on in her music and the new artists that she will continue to inspire for many years to come.
Great music, mirrorballs and dancing around handbags all help to define the disco era. The music has been brought into the limelight recently with a lot of prevalence due to the untimely passing of two stars of the genre; Donna Summer and Robin Gibb. Their music featured in the soundtrack of my formative years, which must be why I feel such a strong affinity with disco.
I may not have direct memories of this time period but I definitely enjoy hearing about it. My experiences of the music from the 70s have been formed subsequently, which started when I began to develop my own musical tastes… something in which the Bee Gees, inadvertently, feature quite heavily!
In the late 1990s I got my first Hi-Fi. No one calls sound systems that any more, but what made it extra special was that it was in the shape of a Coca-Cola can – I loved it! I’ll never forget the first albums that I bought on CD, which were: The Lighthouse Family’s Ocean Drive (I’ve always liked Easy Listening music you see) and a Top of the Pops compilation album because, like most young people do, I followed the charts like a hawk. Over the Christmas period of 1999 many artists of that time covered Bee Gees hits in aid of the charity called Live Challenge ‘99. Steps, Cleopatra (I can’t even type that without thinking “Comin’ at ‘cha!”) Boyzone, 911 and more 90s names released their versions of classic Bee Gees hits. I know that list doesn’t exactly set your heart racing now but back then it did for me. I wanted the tribute album and asked Santa Claus if he would bring it me for Christmas.
Alas, I didn’t get it! There must have been a crossed line to the North Pole somewhere. What I did get was a Bee Gee’s album called One Night Only, recorded live at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. I was not happy with this; any band my parents liked was not cool in my eleven-year-old eyes! So I stuck the album in a drawer, never to be spoken of again…
Many CDs were spun in my little Hi-Fi as the years passed and, as my musical exploration progressed, I started veer away from the constrictions of usual formulaic chart fodder. I became interested in many different genres, especially electronic based music, including bands like Daft Punk, Royksopp and Jamiroquai’s later work.
If you look hard enough for the six degrees of separation you’ll be able to see how all styles of music link together or how one genre has influenced another. With other songs though it’s not hard to hear the connection – take 2003’s Digital Love by Daft Punk as an example:
Now listen to George Duke’s I Love You More from 1979:
Spot the sample! A lot of the electronic music uses samples, especially the synthesizers and vocoders that are synonymous with disco music. So, even though disco is the genre that supplied a large amount of the soundtrack to the ‘70s, it is perhaps more influential nowadays than you may realise.
Music is eternal. I don’t think it matters that I wasn’t born during the 70s, when disco reached the height of popularity, in order to experience it. Taste doesn’t have to be constricted to what decade you grew up in – if it were then no one would ever listen to classical music! As there is such a massive range of music out there it would be narrow-minded to limit what you listen to by the charts, a certain genre or decade. I’m a huge advocate for encouraging musical exploration and with the internet, downloads and online streaming being so accessible there really is no reason not to delve that little bit deeper. (Get any How Deep is Your Love puns out of your system now, or forever hold your peace…)
Maybe an indication of how good songs are can be measured by how frequently they have been covered by other artists, which explains the ethos behind the Bee Gees tribute album that I yearned for in the late ‘90s… and I did get it eventually. The irony is that I don’t play it any more. I listen to the original versions of Bee Gees hits much more than any cover versions. The only reason that the One Night Only CD is in a drawer now is because I have converted the tracks into MP3s. I’ve played these songs even more often since hearing the news of the death of Robin Gibb. The longevity of music means that even though performers pass away their music can live on forever. I definitely will never forget to remember disco.
Wherever You Will Go, featured on the Twinings tea advert in the lead up to Christmas last year. I was so enamoured with this song that I had to delve deeper into her work and was thrilled to find an already impressive repertoire to her name.
It’s interesting that Chalene’s biggest chart hit is purely piano led because she’s an incredibly gifted guitarist, self-taught and having played since the age of five. These influences feature prominently in her EPs and debut album Moonchild. At the age of 23 she is already a veteran of the touring circuit, regularly selling out the Night and Day in Manchester and countless other venues across the country. I was excited to finally get the chance to see her perform at the Royal Northern College of Music and her set didn’t disappoint.
To best describe the sound we have to talk about genre. I’ve encountered lots of musicians over the years but have never met one who liked being pigeon-holed by a label. This is probably because it becomes very constrictive; there’s a sneer if the artists venture beyond the genre that has been bestowed upon them by critics. Music shouldn’t be like that; it’s one of the most expressive and creative art forms so experimentation should be encouraged. Any good artist will want to enrich their own style by taking influences from many genres, therefore overlapping them all.
Here are some more labels for you: With similarities to artists like Katie Melua, Rumer and hitting the high notes as good as Minnie Ripperton, it made me wonder why the RNCM concert hall was only half full for the gig? Setting the ambience for the evening was the opening song When We Were Five, psychedelic in style. Charlene’s prowess with a guitar is almost mesmerising because it is so effortlessly natural to her. She switched to playing the mandolin for the mellow Midsummer Moon in June, baritone guitar for edgier Animal and back again throughout the set. All of which was interspersed with humorous anecdotes, making it a thoroughly enjoyable night.
With many strings to her bow (or should that be guitar?), Charlene Soraia has an impressive back catalogue, dabbling in various styles, that keeps on growing. If you’ve only heard The Calling’s cover song then her musical cannon is definitely worth exploring further. Especially if you like her style of music… whatever it is being labelled as at the moment. Regardless of what genre it is, the music sounds good. That’s the most important thing.
Quite fitting really as Jamiroquai had been one of my favourite bands for a while. I have collected a lot of their memorabilla over the years. (Surely every fan must have a Jami’ hat? Maybe that’s just me then…) Throughout all the bands’ various line-ups I have loved their funky acid-jazz vibes. This is not a totally fresh sound though, you just have to listen to Dexter Wensell or Skyy to hear where lead-singer Jay Kay has got his inspiration from, but it does make Jamiroquai veer outside of the mainstream. As a result, they don’t get as much radio airplay as they probably deserve. This is one of the reasons why I like to include their music in my radio shows.
I had been involved with the University of Manchester’s student radio station Fuse FM for about a year before that fateful night when the bug bit. Initially as part of the marketing and production teams before having my arm twisted (literally, if I remember rightly??) to get involved with on-air presentation. It was a big step for me; up until that point I had always been the shy type that liked music that no one seemed to know about. I wasn’t enjoying the banal nature my course at university and needed a creative outlet. The only problem being that I was so nervous; even during training while the station was off-air I couldn’t speak into the microphone was the red ‘mic live’ light lit up. I know you wont believe me if you listen to me now but, honestly, I would open my mouth and no sounds would come out! This did not bode well for live shows at all but the Fuse FM committee assured me I’d be fine. They were right and, show by show, I gained in confidence and being involved in radio was exactly what I needed to bring me out of my shell.
During the first broadcast period of our RSL I probably spent most time on the floor re-booting computers and plugging cables into sockets than I did on the micn but because my confidence had increased during my time with Fuse I was ready for new a challenge. This came in the form of an opportunity to present an overnight broadcast for from 2am to 8am before the station went off-air for that year. Up to that point the most radio I had done had been in 2 hour slots. Would I be able to find enough content to fill 6 hours straight? Then it occurred to me that Jamiroquai had, at that time, released 6 studio albums. All under an hour in length which meant that I could play one album per hour leaving enough time to do some speech links in between the songs – bingo! It would be a marathon Jamiroquai broadcast, the first of it’s kind and something that has never been done since.
“Just don’t expect anyone to listen” said my station manager. Fuse would promote this insomniac show the best they could but, with the FM transmitter only reaching to the outskirts of the university campus, it seemed realistic to expect the only people listening would be drunken students coming back from a wild night out. We did have an online stream of the station output so I had nothing to loose in contacting Jamiroquai fansites and forums to let them know what was happening; maybe someone would listen off the back of that? How wrong I was…
What followed that night was an amazing experience, during the show I received what seemed like a never ending stream of messages from all corners of the earth, from places like Argentina, Canada and Venezuela to name a few. I can even remember one particular message saying something like: “Hi Katy, just listening to your show on the beach here in Australia while we enjoy a barbie!” Wow, almost as hot as I was in our tiny little studio / sauna that was situated next to the Students’ Union’s broken boiler… radio isn’t as glamorous as you might think!
I thought all this contact must have been a wind-up, Fuse FM committees are notorious for those. (Just search on YouTube for some pranks we did during my year on the committee for proof of that!) This definitely wasn’t a prank though and for the first time I was now not just broadcasting to my friends or course mates, I was connecting with people who I didn’t know and they were interacting with me. I still keep in touch with some of the people that listened that night and they continue to support my radio work now. I had experienced the intimate beauty of what radio as a medium is all about, albeit on an extremely grand scale in student radio terms.
To this day my body clock hasn’t quite recovered, I’m still a creature of the night. I always jump at the chance to be involved in overnight programmes and continued to present and produce them for every Fuse FM broadcast until I left the station. I’ve also taken part in overnight election broadcasts for the station that I’m with now: North Manchester FM. I’ve never gone quite as global as I did the night of that Jamiroquai all-nighter, but that doesn’t matter. With radio being such a personal method of communication even if just one person listens and enjoys the show, that makes it all worthwhile.
Hopefully that gives you some idea of why radio is so important to me. It all came full circle this year in April when I was able to experience my first time seeing Jamiroquai perform live. This was a great spectacle and brought back lovely memories of the night when I got bitten by the radio bug – long may it continue! For that reason, Jamiroquai as a band will always have a special place in my heart and I love playing their music on my shows, the sentimental radio anorak that I am!