Music Opinion Blog

Opinions and occasional rants about the state of the music scene. The views expressed are entirely my own, and do not represent those of any artists or publications with whom I may be connected.

A Depressing Quote

This quote from Radio One’s Clara Anfo, taken from a Guardian feature in which various pundits and tastemakers were asked their predictions for 2017, is profoundly depressing.

In pop music, you can have guys and girls who all look amazing and they might have brilliant songs, but if they can’t bring it to life, if they haven’t got the spunk to bring what they’re supposedly trying to sell to interviews, or on the radio or online, I’m not going to be interested.

In her world, there is apparently no room for anyone for whom the most interesting thing about them is the music they make, even if those are the very people who ultimately make the best music. No, it’s all about being the right sort of media celebrity. It doesn’t matter how good your songs are if you don’t have the right back story.

I could say “I must be getting old” at this point, except that this nonsense is nothing new. In 2017, just like every other year, the best music will fly completely under the radar of the media tastemakers and gatekeepers. The “mainstream” has always been clogged up with ephemeral celebrity fluff.

The job of the rest of us is to signal-boost the good stuff so that it can find an audience.

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Filling the Hole

As an independent blogger, I was sometimes annoyed that so many prog bands sent their press releases announcing new records, tours or even new lineups exclusively to Prog Magazine, who would frequently announce things before they appeared on the band’s own websites. But I understand why the bands all did it; Prog has a reach no independent blogger could match, and if exclusively was their price, it was a price worth paying as far as the bands were concerned.

Prog’s sudden and unexpected demise leaves a huge hole.

Independent bloggers can’t hope to fill a hole that big, but we’ll try to do whatever we can. I try ro curate the news section of this site rather than copy-pasting every single press release that shows up in my email. But it goes without saying that any of the bands who feature on this site regularly (You know who you are, and so do our readers) won’t be ignored.

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When album of the year lists go bad

I have wondered out loud whether I should delete this blog because it’s irrelevant and reactionary. Because I write about obscure struggling prog-rock bands rather than about millionaire rappers I’m an old man yelling at clouds who should stop taking up a younger generation’s space.

No, nobody has explicitly said that to me, but it’s the dog-whistle subtext coming from The Guardian’s album-of-the-year rundown this year. Several of the write-ups wear identity politics on their sleeves, and at least one crosses over into unsubtle race-baiting. It’s hardly a surprise that the comments have turned into an ugly mess of racism and ageism.

I have nothing against any of the individual entries, except that they’re not my thing, and nothing in the write-ups makes me want to investigate further. And it goes without saying that none of the music I love gets a look in, but that’s been true every year for as long as I can remember.

It’s all because The Guardian insists on doing an aggregated ranked list.

Ranked lists work for single-genre specialist publications, like prog or metal, because all the records are evaluated and ranked by the standards of one consistent aesthetic. It works for your individual list because it’s a personal thing, and the list is as much about you than it is about the contents.

But when a publication that aspires to cover a broad range of genres with radically different aesthetics takes that approach, it all degenerates into a zero-sum game pitting genre against genre, and the results are never pretty. Especially when The Guardian seems to have a winner-takes-all voting system that ensures that whenever a critical mass of voters like the same things, their choices crowd out everything else. Every year their top ten ends up looking very samey, notable as much by what is excluded than by what’s actually in it.

The critics’ individual top tens, published after the ranked rundown almost as an afterthought are always far more interesting and illuminating. Perhaps next year they should give the individual critics’ lists a lot more prominence, and emphasise the aggregated list rather little less?

There is so much music out there nowadays that it’s impossible for any one person to keep up with it all. In a musical context like this, exactly what is the value of a ranked list of lowest-common-denominator mainstream records?

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Judas Priest – 10 of the best


The Guardian Music Blog has another one of mine in their Ten of the Best series, this time for The Black Country’s finest, Judas Priest.

I’ve covered much of their career, going from Sad Wings of Destiny to Nostradamus. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to include anything with Tim “Ripper” Owens; though “Cathedral Spires” was in my shortlist, “Jugulator” isn’t on Spotify, so I couldn’t include the song,

One or two people have said they can’t take Judas Priest seriously. Whatever gives them that idea?

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Can you sum up Prog in 50 albums?

Prog Magazine have a listicle that attempts to show the history of prog in 50 albums. It begins with the proto-prog of the mid-60s, continues with the defining albums of the greats of the 70s and ends with some of the groundbreaking redefinitions of the modern era.

Only Pink Floyd get more than one entry, and that’s because the Barratt-led 60s psychedelic rockers and the Waters-led stadium act were really two quite different beasts. You could quibble over the relative lack of women; though Curved Air, Renaissance, Fairport Convention and Kate Bush all get a mention there’s nobody from more recent eras. What about Nightwish, perhaps? Or are they not considered prog enough?

Who’s missing?  Aside from Nightwish, the most obvious omission is probably The Mars Volta.

What do you think? Who do you think is missing, and is there anyone who doesn’t deserve to be there?

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This is a bit of a rant.

Why do so few venues publish the stage times and curfew times of their gigs? London venues are generally good at this, but it’s a very different story out in the sticks. Does it not occur to them that some rock fans in niche genres are willing to travel significant distances by train? Knowing whether or not the show will finish before the last train home is a significant deciding factor on whether or not to attend. Even if it’s “must see” gig by a favourite band, it’s useful to know whether or not you need to book a B&B; there’s been one gig where I could have saved a lot of money if I’d known about the early curfew.

Even if most people either go by car or live close enough that a taxi home is affordable, surely every single extra punter through the door is worth it? Especially those who don’t have to drive home and might be able to spend more money at the bar?

That’s before we get to the ridiculous guessing game over whether the advertised start time is doors or the actual start of the show. Rock clubs and provincial arts centres seem to have entirely different definitions on what it means, so you either end up spending half an hour in freezing rain outside the venue, or risk missing the beginning of the show.

What does it cost venues or bands to make this information available?

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Cult heroes: Mostly Autumn

gu-mostly-autumnMy “Cult Heroes” piece on Mostly Autumn is now published in The Guardian Music Blog.

It’s both a great honour and more than a bit scary to be asked to write about a favourite band for the online section of a national newspaper, especially when I’m on first name terms with many past and present members of the band. They have always had a few noisy detractors, mostly jealous fans of less successful acts. They also had some very defensive obsessives who used to take the mildest criticism as an personal attack on the band. There was always an outside chance of the comments turning ugly.

I wanted it to read authentically rather than something fanboyish, so I covered the downs as well as the ups; mentioning the mis-marketing during the Classic Rock Productions years as well as the wobbly period when Iain Jennings (briefly) left in 2006. But I hope those are balanced by more than enough strong positives.

With a word count of a thousand words give or take a hundred, there wasn’t room for everything I wanted to include. One thing I’d like to have said more about was the extended family of related bands in their orbit. That includes side-projects like Odin Dragonfly and Josh & Co, as well as separate creative projects by past and present members, such as The Heather Findlay Band, Halo Blind and Cloud Atlas. Or Breathing Space, the side project that took on a life of its own before being reabsorbed back into the mothership. They’re all part of the Mostly Autumn story, and they’re a part of what the fandom is about.

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Mostly Autumn – Ten of the Best

Heather Findlay and Olivia Sparnenn at Gloucester Guildhall in 2009

Another Ten of the Best for a band which have featured a lot on this blog ever since the beginning.

As you should have come to expect by now, this is ten of the best, not the “ten best”, and omits some of most the obvious standards in favour some of the overlooked diamonds in the back catalogue.

Continue reading

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The Ignobles of Rock Lyrics

Classic Rock magazine responds to Bob Dylan’s nobel prize for literature with some suggestions for Rock’s Ignoble Laureates.

There is the inevitable Noel Gallagher, who as ever sounds like somebody fed the Bumper Book of Bad Clichés into a random text generator.

“Sitting upside a high chair/The devil’s refugee is gonna be blinded by the light that follows me”

But I have to defend the late, great Ronnie James Dio. They quote this line from “Holy Diver” and rather miss the point of what Dio was about.

Ride the tiger/You can see his stripes but you know he’s clean/Oh don’t you see what I mean?

I’ve always seen Dio as the Jon Anderson of metal; he plays with evocative imagery even when they don’t make any literal sense.

And this one from Krokus’ “Down the Drain” is a work of comic genius along with Queen’s classic “Told my girl I gotta forget her/Cost I gotta buy me a new carburettor”

“My mother was a B-girl/My old man was a tramp/Some say they conceived me/On a loading ramp”

Some of the others are hilarious, though the Great White lyric is too crass to post here. That appalling piece of macho drivel is actually credited to five authors, presumably so each of them could deny all responsibility and blame the others.

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Yes, Journey, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Salon

A central casting too-cool-for-school hipster looks at this year’s nominations for the Rock and Roll hall of fame and asks “Why celebrate Journey and Yes? He concludes that the Hall of Fame has hit “a new low”.

Journey stands, alongside REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Styx, and a handful of others as an exemplar of one of the worst, least inventive periods of rock history — the corporate rock movement that was marked by bland playing and generic songwriting. Of all of them, Journey may have had, with Steve Perry, the most annoying lead singer. “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” is lodged permanently on AOR radio, television shows like “Glee,” and in the karaoke and covers repertoire. Forget ear worms — it’s the musical cockroach we’ll never kill. But please, can’t we just agree that this band’s career was a big mistake, try to forget about them, and just leave it at that?

Yes, on the other hand, is a band that once had real musical ambition as leaders of the “art rock movement.” But their classical-rock fusions sound studied now; they never had the imagination or drive of, say, King Crimson. And they are, like Journey, led by an awful lead singer. Can we remove “Owner of a Lonely Heart” from radio forever and just pretend that ‘80s comeback never happened?

Because if you really think Yes are defined by “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, you should not be employed to write about them. But it’s Salon, which is really a leftist-hipster version of The Daily Express, a publication that exists to confirm and reinforce the prejudices of its narrow-minded readership.

There is a wider question, of course, of why exactly does anyone take the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seriously in the first place.

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