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?

2014 – places I’ve been, things I’ve seen

Countries visited: 6
Currencies used: 2
Flights boarded: 0
Trains taken: God knows

I was quite a busy guy in 2014 – and I’m sure I spent more weekends away from Bristol than in it. Without an efficient app to track these things, I’ll just have to rely on my memory and photos.

There have been plenty of trips around the UK, including fun days and nights in Norwich, Bury St Edmunds and London amongst others. I even managed a couple of trips up north to Leeds – the first of which featured the annual Eurovision gathering. Good friends The Bentleys played great hosts to a night of Eurofun, and the fourth iteration of my ever-improving Eurovision spreadsheet got another outing. It turns out we thought Iceland should have won based on their whole performance, although Denmark had best visual show. Stats are fun.

In wider travels, one four-week period in the summer saw me roadtripping across Europe, visiting the Edinburgh Fringe and camping in Wales. The roadtrip, originally planned as a weekend in Portsmouth, took in five cities over seven days and saw us drive through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands. This last one was particularly pleasing – despite having driven through the southern tip of the country in 2011, a year when I also changed flights in Amsterdam, I never felt I could say I had been to the Netherlands. Now, having wandered round Maastricht, taken photos and bought lunch there, I can finally tick it off my list. The European countries I’ve visited now form a visually pleasing contiguous group with no holes – if you ignore the pesky principalities.

Map of Europe

Sweden would be a satisfying next step

My trip to Edinburgh I have covered elsewhere, and was very fun. On getting off the train from Edinburgh back in Bristol, we were picked up from the station and headed straight to the Brecon Beacons for a few days of camping and the great outdoors. Scotland, England and Wales within 24 hours – it was mighty tempting to find a flight to Belfast that evening, I tell you! But stay in Wales we did, and it was a jolly lovely trip, made all the more exciting by a fire which completely destroyed the garage of the property in whose fields we were staying. Thankfully nobody was hurt, but it was an eye-opening time as teams of us campers passed buckets of water from a duckpond and threw them over the roaring inferno. I have to admit, I see the burn holes in my hoody as quite the souvenir from the weekend. Huge respect to the fire service and the job they did when they showed up and put the thing properly out.

Earlier in the summer, I also attended my second Glastonbury, serving as a steward again with Oxfam. It’s a great way to do the festival – meeting new people and getting fed, whilst plenty of time remained to take in all the sights and sounds the week had to offer. With a couple of extra days off for events like my graduation – it’s safe to say that by the end of the summer I was both skint and out of annual leave allowance. Still, I’d saved up enough by the autumn to visit a log cabin in Hampshire for a weekend with uni friends – now an annual tradition which includes hot tubs, games, and plenty of food and drink. Long may it continue!

As if the cabin excitement wasn’t enough for November, I also got to visit Manchester to take part in University Challenge! Sadly, my episode won’t be broadcast, as it merely served as a full dress rehearsal for the series of Christmas specials, but it was still huge fun. Real Paxo, real Roger Tilling saying my name, and a real victory of 205-15. We even got to stick around to watch the celebrity shows being recorded. Huge thanks to my team captain Paddy for letting me take part in the day, and introducing me to some great new people!

Of course, on top of all this, there have been plenty of weekends in Bristol – visiting the cinema or theatre, or curled up watching a DVD. Highlight of the filmic year was probably Boyhood – although The Lego Movie and ’71 also both standout in my mind. Interstellar felt like something that would make a good 5-series TV show, but in my opinion tried to fit too many things to suit a single movie. I’ll keep better track of films this year thanks to signing up to Letterboxd  – a good service to check out if you haven’t already. As for TV – I watched all of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, and finally finished the last few seasons of How I Met Your Mother. I also bought a new phone which supports the iPlayer and 4OD apps, which has made catching up on things far easier for a guy who spends ten hours a week commuting. Special mention to Grayson Perry: Who Are You? – a great 3-part series released this year, and one that made a couple of days of commuting much more interesting.

I made relatively few trips to the theatre (besides Edinburgh) in 2014, but have made the step of getting involved with the Bristol Improv Theatre, which is great fun. I hope before the year is out I’ll appear on stage doing something creative – though I did pop up doing the occasional talk on stage for Science Showoff in 2014. If you know of live any act you think I should see – whether acting, singing, joking or dancing – please let me know!

So, what for 2015? Perhaps a TV appearance? Perhaps visiting a new country. More Eurovision, more tootling across the UK, and who knows where else? Here’s to the next adventure!

2014 in music

I’m a fan of last.fm for keeping track of the music I’m listening to. Having the stats serves virtually no practical purpose, but I do find it interesting to look back and see the trends in my own music habits. Now seems as apt time as any to look back at the last twelve months and ask – who did I listen to this year?

  1. Manic Street Preachers (518 plays in 2014)
  2. David Bowie (356)
  3. Kate Bush (318)
  4. God Help The Girl (184)
  5. The Kleptones (160)
  6. Belle and Sebastian (151)
  7. Radiohead (141)
  8. Simon & Garfunkel (118)
  9. Fleetwood Mac (102)
  10. Paul Simon (90)

No real surprises – I spend most of my time listening to the music I’ve already bought and liked, so there’s not a lot of new music in the top ten. Paul Simon was given a boost (as were Simon & Garfunkel) in the excitement of booking to see him live in 2015. Conversely, Kate Bush enjoyed a similar boost in my distress at not getting tickets to her Before the Dawn shows in September (I was on a train to an Only Connect audition when they went on sale) – though she’d doubtless be high in the rankings anyway.

God Help The Girla film I helped to fund back in 2012 – was finally released this summer, and I have given the new soundtrack album plenty of spins since its launch. I’ve also continued to enjoy the original 2009 GHTG album on which the film is based, and was pleased to see its lead singer Catherine Ireton at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. Since both albums are simply credited to God Help The Girl, its singular inclusion in the chart disguises songs from rather a few vocalists – but it deserves a place nevertheless. As a funder of the musical film, I was pleased to attend a special screening in London where I got to meet director Stuart Murdoch (below). His band, Belle and Sebastian, have also been regulars on playlists this year.

Fleetwood Mac have done well to sneak in to the top ten, although Rumours is never far from the play button. Radiohead always make the rankings, and I maintain that music from The Kleptones is some of the best out there available for free. As my Bowie collection has grown I have more and more of his music to choose from. Why the heck wouldn’t I listen to it every day?

The Manics top it off though, thanks largely to their Roundhouse gigs in December. Twelve years since the first and only other time I’d seen them live, I was in the nostalgic crowd as they played their seminal The Holy Bible in full, followed by hits from across their career including songs from the two albums they released in 2014. Futurology, the latter of these, stands out as the best thing they’ve done in years, and crowned their position at the top of my 2014 charts.

Special mention must also go to The Polyphonic Spree, who just missed out at number eleven in my chart. One night in June I found out at the last minute that they were playing Bristol’s Trinity Centre – a 20 minute walk from my house – and decided to attend on a whim. I’m so glad I did, as I can gladly say it was the most enjoyable gig I’ve ever attended. As the huge ensemble played and danced in unison to their own fantastic songs and some great covers, I was hooked – and they made us all part of it. Soldier Girl will now forever remind me of jumping up and down with lead singer Tim DeLaughter in the middle of the hall. I can’t help but smile when I remember it. Go and enjoy them live if you can.

The other live music to mention is of course Glastonbury Festival. I saw plenty of acts throughout the event, but I have to give a nod here to the New York Brass Band who were easily my musical highlight of the week – to be honest, they’re in close contention with The Polyphonic Spree for musical highlight of the year. They do funky brassy covers of all kinds of songs whilst encouraging dance-offs, climbing speaker stacks, and forming conga lines. They’re tremendous fun. If you’re due to get married and thinking of inviting me, please book them. Please.

So, what will 2015 hold? Another Glastonbury, a new Belle and Sebastian album, more Bowie? Everything else is to play for. If you’d like to recommend me something, why not make me a mix CD? Bonus points if it has great artwork. Get in touch if you want to know where to send it. Here’s a sound new year!