2015 in music

It’s been a year of good new music, plenty of old music, enjoyable live music, and much singing in the kitchen. At this time of year, I like to reflect on what was making my ears happy over the last months. So, with the help of last.fm, I present the chart of my most listened-to artists, 2015:

  1. David Bowie
  2. Manic Street Preachers
  3. Radiohead
  4. Paul Simon
  5. Belle and Sebastian
  6. Ryan Adams
  7. The Polyphonic Spree
  8. Kate Bush
  9. Bruce Springsteen
  10. Fleetwood Mac
  11. The Police
  12. Sting
  13. Taylor Swift
  14. Suede
  15. Daft Punk
  16. Joanna Newsom
  17. The Kleptones
  18. The War On Drugs
  19. Public Service Broadcasting
  20. Simon and Garfunkel

There’s not an awful lot of difference to last year’s top ten – I’m a man of consistent tastes. New music is only really represented by Belle and Sebastian, who chucked out a new album in January, and Ryan Adams, whose cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 has been one of my favourite albums of the year.

In fact, Taylor herself didn’t do so badly in my charts, just out of the top ten but slam-dunking in at number 13 thanks to several spins of 1989 and the rest of her back catalogue – it helps that I’ve moved into a flat full of Swift fans. Apart from the old stalwarts of the Manics, Radiohead, Bush and Bowie, the rest of my top artists can largely be linked to the music I’ve seen live – while Bruce Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac prop up the top ten by virtue of just being great.

In April I had an awesome night at London’s O2 to watch Sting and Paul Simon play a solid three hours of tight, moving and outright rocking music. Attracted to get tickets by Simon’s presence, I was pleasantly surprised by how much Sting I enjoyed. Since then, I’ve listened to a lot of Sting and The Police, who just miss out on the top ten as separate entities – though if I combined play counts they would jump to number 5, just behind Paul Simon himself (though that’s without songs by Simon & Garfunkel – at number 20 as a duo).

After last year’s most amazing gig in Bristol, I jumped right in for more Polyphonic Spree tickets and saw them play the entirety of their first album, plus a few hits besides, in London in September – and have filled up my collection with the rest of their back catalogue since. My other live music highlight has to be Joanna Newsom at the Hammersmith Apollo in November. Her beautiful, beautiful music had the audience totally hushed and I’m certain there were a few tears in the crowd as she played harps, piano and all sorts of other instruments I couldn’t name. Her new album, released a few weeks prior, has also received a few plays – popping her at number 16.

Tim DeLaughter and Aaron Boardley

Me with Tim DeLaughter of The Polyphonic Spree

While I also saw The War On Drugs in February this year, the other special mentions for live music have to be from my third Glastonbury festival. Florence + The Machine impressively stepped up to the headline slot, The Libertines’ surprise addition created one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever been a part of at the Pyramid Stage – until Lionel Richie crammed it full the next day for tremendous fun sing-alongs, and I’m really glad I got to see the rousing set from Duke Special (and have him stage dive on me at the end). Plus, after giving up on Kanye after three songs, I’m so pleased I went to see Suede headlining the John Peel stage. Superb guitar music for a superb Saturday night.

A final nod from the top twenty has to go to Public Service Broadcasting. Thanks to a recommendation from podcaster Brady Haran, I have feasted on their album The Race For Space time after time again since the summer. I could give a blow-by-blow recommendation for most its fantastic tracks, but I’m sure I’ve rambled enough. Why not set aside an hour to just listen to it?

As we wave goodbye to the musical highlights of 2015, and look ahead at what 2016 will stir in us, I’ll leave you with a song that caught my attention on the radio last summer and has been in my head, if not played out loud, every day since:

Wouldn’t it be terrible if there’s no music?

Podcasts, penguins and David Prowse

David Prowse – the man in the original Darth Vader suit – has only seen Star Wars twice, and I got to join him for the second occasion.

If that wasn’t enough of a claim to an interesting Saturday, let me tell you that this experience took place at Bristol Zoo after we had been to watch the penguins get fed together.

Isn’t my life fun?

It was all part of a Saturday spent with a small group of fans of the Hello Internet podcast. One of its creators – YouTuber extraordinaire Brady Haran – had won the chance to watch Star Wars with the original Vader actor at a Bristol Zoo charity auction, and had opened the opportunity up to a small group of listeners to join him. The fact this opportunity was taking place in my hometown meant it was too good to pass up, and so with a payment to the zoo’s penguin appeal I found myself among thirty other fans to meet Brady and Hello Internet co-creator CGP Grey at the zoo yesterday.

The day was a wonderful ‘peek behind the curtain’ experience – getting to chat to Brady and meet the notoriously veiled CGP Grey was a real treat. They were both delightful, but it was especially pleasing to talk and joke with Grey – who famously shies away from all but essential interaction with strangers – and find him to be fun, friendly and taking a real interest in us guests.

In between chit-chat about penguins and selfies, I loved having the opportunity to ask Grey and Brady about the minutiae of their work as podcasters and YouTubers, and so as Prowse came before us to take questions at the end of Star Wars, I thought I’d continue the theme with him. He told us that the Vader suit was wonderfully made but rather warm during the hot summer of 1976 – although he declined to comment specifically on the cape despite my Incredibles-inspired question. He said he purposely developed the Darth Vader walk so that others would almost have to run to keep up with him, and that he most enjoyed throwing Emperor Palpatine into the Death Star’s reactor shaft in Return of the Jedi – reminding us all of his strength as British heavyweight weightlifting champion. He said that he worked for a straight salary on the first Star Wars film (which he claimed he had not seen since it premiered) but receives residual payments for the others – and described his reaction when he received his first residual check for Empire. He then led us all in song with some made-up lyrics to the Star Wars theme. Who would have thought a screening of Star Wars would end in a singalong?

Hearing about the behind-the-scenes going on of YouTube videos, talkative podcasts and blockbuster movies is my idea of a fascinating day. Add in a few aquatic birds and some popcorn and you’ve truly iced that cake. Huge thanks to Brady, Grey, David Prowse and all at the zoo for organising the day. I loved every minute.

Aaron Boardley and David Prowse in front of Darth Vader cardboard cutout.

Me and David Prowse. Cue humming of Imperial March.