Tuesday Tunes 15: Bye Bye Lockdown?

In many countries the lockdown is beginning to be relaxed with, it has to be said, rather mixed results. In the US, which to my eyes bears the dubious distinction of being the only country to have handled the pandemic more ineptly than us, many states have done the Numpty’s bidding and opened up again rapidly, with some dramatic resulting increases in new cases. But hey, what are a few plebs’ lives when there’s money to be made? I know that these are incredibly difficult decisions to take, and I wouldn’t want to be the one balancing the saving of lives against the need to restart the economy, and what that means for employment and general wellbeing. But as so little is still known about this virus I would have hoped that caution might have been exercised, both on the part of governments and their populations. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case, and I suspect that we may not be over it yet, hence this week’s theme: Bye Bye Lockdown? Note that question mark, it is important.

Here in the UK you could be forgiven for thinking that our lockdown is already over, judging by the news coverage of rallies, protests, and huge numbers flocking to the beaches during the recent good weather – but with lavatories not being allowed to be open I hate to think what the state of the seawater was like. So, our lockdown is not yet over, but you could be forgiven for not noticing.  Shops and public places have been gradually reopening over the past couple of weeks, but the real changes for most of us don’t even come into effect until this weekend. This will see a significant relaxation in the rules about meeting people outside and inside your home, and will also permit the reopening of pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres. In keeping with the whole process so far, the rules are complicated and, in some cases, downright stupid: theatres can reopen, but are not allowed to hold live performances in case anyone gets spat on. Likewise for live music, as it is of course a well known fact that musicians take great delight in spitting on their audiences to share their germs: the Sex Pistols have a lot to answer for!

So, having chosen my theme for this week, how could I find a couple of tunes to illustrate it? On the one hand, there is the aspect of our new freedom, while on the other there is the continuing need to exercise caution to help prevent a second wave of the virus. In true British compromise spirit I decided on one tune for each. It’s probably a good thing that I’m not running the country with decision making abilities like that, but I’m not, so you can all breathe a huge sigh of relief – into your mask, of course. This week’s first tune is the one that goes down the ‘let’s all have a good time’ route, and is from one of my favourite bands: The Darkness. They get a mixed press, and are often deemed not to be ‘cool,’ but I think they make some of the best rock music in this country. They also make superb videos, not taking themselves too seriously, as this one demonstrates. It has a bit of an intro but stick with it – you’ll laugh, I promise:

That track was released as a single, ahead of its inclusion on the band’s third album, Hot Cakes. Surprisingly to me it was their first single not to chart, but I think that may have had more to do with the band having been on a five year hiatus than anything else. Justin Hawkins, the band leader, said this about it at the time: “We wanted to write the world’s simplest, dumbest rock song. It’s harder than you might imagine. Songwriting is like catching butterflies. If a big dumb butterfly isn’t flying past when you’re sitting there with your net, you aren’t going to catch one.” I think it’s rather better than that!

This week’s second tune takes the other route: the need for caution. You have probably gathered from what I have already said, in this post and others, that I am very wary of things being done too quickly. As well as in the US, lockdown relaxations in other countries, such as Germany, Singapore and China, have caused a spike in new cases, and here we have the city of Leicester being put back into quarantine just as the rest of the country is released. I’ll be honest: I’m scared of what may happen, and will be venturing out even less than normal till I’m confident. I’m still some way from needing to cut my own hair, and online shopping does just about everything else I need! So when I saw that another of my favourite bands had recently released a song called Caution it seemed a no-brainer for today:

Whilst the lyrics talk about ‘throwing caution’ there is, I think, an underlying sense that he is trying to get out from what has been holding him back, even though caution may be the better option. The song is going to be on The Killers’ new album, Imploding The Mirage, which is now due (after some delays) for release in December, I think. I for one can’t wait! Like The Darkness, The Killers have also had periods of hiatus in their 20 years together, but it’s good to see them both back with new music. This will be The Killers’ sixth album, which by a neat piece of symmetry (coincidence?) matches The Darkness, whose sixth album Easter Is Cancelled was released last November.

That’s it for this week (back to the regular two tunes!). I hope that by next week events will have enabled me to feel more confident about coming out of lockdown, and I hope that, wherever you are, the same will be true for you. Take care, stay safe, keep well.

#ChristmasSongOfTheDay 2019 – Part Three

Welcome back to my series of catch up posts for the #ChristmasSongOfTheDay that I am posting on Twitter and on the Facebook page for this blog. Today I’m taking you through days 14 to 19, which will leave one more collection to come.

Last Saturday – day 14 – I returned to a song that I have included before, as I think it is one of the most beautiful modern day Christmas songs. It is by Jackson Browne, who is one of my favourite artists and, I think, ranks at the very top of the list of singer-songwriters. I was fortunate enough to see him play live in 2010, at the Royal Albert Hall in London. It was a wonderful show but, as it was in June, i.e.  the wrong time of year, this one wasn’t on the set list. Nevertheless, as its time has now come I’m happy to share it:

I hadn’t realised it at the time but Jackson is a regular visitor to the RAH, since his debut in 1994: he is scheduled to play there again next year, which will be his 16th appearance. I think they like him too!

That was Jackson’s own version of his song which, as far as I know, has only ever been issued on the 1997 compilation The Next Voice You Hear. He did, however, do a version with the Chieftains for their 1991 album The Bells Of Dublin. In my best DJ fashion, I’m now making a segue into another track from that album, which I shared on the 15th. Smooth link, huh? I always try to post a version of a Christmas Carol on Advent Sundays, and this was always one of my favourites when I was growing up, and was a more regular churchgoer than I am nowadays. I think Marianne Faithfull and the Chieftains do a lovely job with it:

My selection for Monday 16th was one that I have included for all five years that I have been doing this. As before, I make no apology for the repetition: there is a reason for it, and that is because I like it! This is by far the best version I have ever heard of a Christmas standard which is probably most associated with the crooners in their cheesy jumpers. This version really brings out the song’s beauty, and the accompanying video is a perfect fit in creating the mood. You may not have heard of the singer – Brynn Andre – before, and you could be forgiven for this. She made an album in 2009, then another one and a couple of EPs in 2012 – this is the title track of one of those EPs. Since then she has largely been absent from the recording scene, having become a personal life coach instead. But she returned with a couple of collaborations last year, and a new single of her own this past summer. I’m hoping that she will give us more: her lovely voice deserves to be heard more widely.

Tuesday’s song was another that was returning, although only for its second appearance. I think I’m pretty safe in saying that it is the only one of these songs to be performed by a Nobel Laureate! Bob Dylan released a Christmas album in 2009 – Christmas In The Heart – and this is his version of a song that has been around since the 1940s. It was also covered recently by Bryan Adams on his Christmas EP but I much prefer Dylan’s version, with this utterly bonkers video:

Yesterday’s song was one which I have featured most years that I’ve done this. You may know the Killers from their many hit albums and singles, but were you aware that they issued a series of Christmas singles for eight years or so? These were all done to raise money for The Killers’ Christmas Charity, and no doubt they have done a huge amount of good. This one, from 2011, is my favourite, because nothing says Christmas quite like cowboys and robot spacemen, does it:

For today I chose a song I’ve never featured before, though it isn’t exactly new! Those of us of a certain age are probably familiar with Phil Spector’s Christmas album, but of a similar vintage (1964) is the lesser known Beach Boys’ Christmas Album. This sad tale of a little boy’s experience with a department store’s ‘Santa’ will probably echo with many – and it is a piece of classic Beach Boys, so is well worth including, I think:

I’ve rounded off my two previous posts in this series by sharing the wonderful Christmas adverts made by Hafod Hardware, a local shop in Rhayader, in Wales. They have produced three of these now (although I did find an earlier, more prosaic one). I began with this year’s, then went back to 2017. This is the middle one in the sandwich, from 2018, and shares all the charm of the other two, including a ‘vocal’ role for little Arthur at the end:

Isn’t that lovely? As before, the Jones family have shown excellent taste in choosing music from Andrea Von Kampen to accompany their advert: this song is on her Christmas Project EP from 2016. As I said last time, I recommend her highly: she has a beautiful voice and writes good songs of her own, too.

I’ll be posting again on Saturday, with an updated version of last year’s piece for the Winter Solstice, and then again with the concluding part of this series on Christmas Day. Hopefully I’ll see you again for both of those. And, if you haven’t already done it, a timely reminder that you should be putting the sprouts on if you don’t want to be too late…..

A #ChristmasSongOfTheDay Part Three

We’re getting closer to the big day, aren’t we! This is, as the title suggests, the third part of my compilation of daily song posts, and offers the usual melange dredged from the canyons of my mind (bonus brownie points to anyone who got that reference!). Today, I’m refreshing you on days 13 up to day 18 – which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is today. Time to get those sprouts on!

For the 13th I went back to my musical roots. Deep down, I am at heart a folkie, and have long loved the music of bands like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, which is where the English folk-rock genre really began, in the late 60s. The driving force behind Steeleye has been their singer, Maddy Prior, and I’ve been lucky enough to see the band (I think) six times, going right back to late 1970. For a good many years now Maddy has also run a side project – Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band – who tour at Christmas. This year is no exception: they are still going strong. A new video popped up on YouTube a few days ago: I’m not sure when the performance is actually from, but it looks fairly recent. This is their version of a well known carol, and it is simply joyous:

This is actually the fifth year that I’ve done this – although only the second here on the blog – and very few songs have featured every year. My choice for day 14 is one of that select group: it is from Blue, one of the best albums ever made, by one of the best singer-songwriters ever. The version I’ve previously shared was accompanied by a video of Snoopy skating, which was a perfect fit, but sadly that one has now been withdrawn for copyright reasons: the word that springs to mind is ‘snowflakes!’ The song is still just as brilliant, though, and this video is a good substitute for Snoopy. Here is the wonderful Joni Mitchell:

Day 15 went down a rather different track. Although they haven’t done it recently, the rock band The Killers produced a Christmas song each year for about eight years. Proceeds were donated to charity – I think that is a rather wonderful thing to do, and deserving of mention in my dispatches. This is my favourite of their collection because, well, nothing says ‘Christmas’ quite like cowboys and robot spacemen, does it?

As the 16th was a Sunday I followed my usual practice of selecting a carol. I’ve featured this one before, but not this version. I really can’t think why, as I loved this duo’s music during their short time together as a partnership. They made two excellent albums plus a one-off seasonal single, which featured this as its B-side. The carol is familiar, I’m sure, but I doubt there are many versions which even come close to the heartbreaking beauty and simplicity of the Civil Wars:

Having regretted the musical demise of one favourite, I think I applied my hex on my choice for the 17th too. You probably won’t have heard of Brynn Andre, and she hasn’t been active on the music scene very much for quite some time, having made two lovely albums and an EP going back nearly ten years. Her Twitter feed describes her as a ‘coach for the modern girl’ with no mention of music in her bio – it has been inactive since 2014 anyway. She did pop up doing some live shows in 2014 with an unfulfilled promise of new recordings, and provided the vocals last year for a song by a band called We Are. I live in hope! It says on the video that the song is from an EP entitled Holiday, but until yesterday I’d been unable to find it, other than in this YouTube video version. Having donned my deerstalker I finally managed to locate it as the title track of a three song free download on Bandcamp, so I’m now a very happy bunny! It’s an old standard, but she breathes new life into it, with a lovely evocative video to match. This is another of the select few songs which I’ve featured in all five years of my #ChristmasSongOfTheDay, and I think you’ll see why:

My selection for today takes us back to the mainstream. This is one of the few of my choices which has appeared in the music charts, reaching no.6 in the US and no.9 in the UK (as a double A-side with My Hometown) in 1985, but it is difficult to leave out the Boss (no, not those Sugar and Numpty Trumpty guys, someone more deserving of the title!). Again, this is a pop Christmas standard, but I think this version is great! It’s happy, and that’s what Christmas should be:

So, that’s a wrap for today. I’ll be back on Christmas Day with the final selection of eight more songs to take us up to the full complement of 26. Yes, I know there are 25 days in the usual Advent Calendar but this is mine so I can do it how I like! I get to a final total of 26 by giving you a bonus extra song on Christmas Day – alright, I admit it, it’s more to do with indecision than seasonal goodwill, but I hope you won’t complain!

There will also be an additional post as part of my musical advent this year. For the first time I’m doing a little something extra which will feature here on Friday, and I hope to see you again then. In the meantime, stay well and happy, and mind those sprouts 😉