Stray Tinsel: bits and pieces from 2017
Our picture comes tonight from our billet in the former Free Trade Hall - in Manchester of course, a city that to our great shame we only properly visited for the first time during 2017. The people, the pride, the vibe, the history, the trams, the Christmas markets - there were plenty of revelations. Felt like a great European city. Though the level of rough sleeping was something else (and that's coming from someone who's lived in London and Bristol for the past 25 years). These are cold nights.
We just wanted to run through a few personal highs from 2017. If there's anything left in the tank we'll try to tackle albums and singles later, before the New Year is ushered in by the chimes of Big Ben, chimes that have been badly missed this year by the usual cabal of Tory mentalists.
Gig of the year: It’s not how we necessarily imagined our gig-going lives would turn out, but one way or another we seem to frequent the Camden Underworld now more than any other venue, which makes it the new Fleece & Firkin / Jericho Tavern / Buffalo Bars / Bull & Gate, depending on how far back we deign to revisit LP Hartley's 'different country'. Wormrot were brilliant back in February, and knocked the socks off our companions (who were Wormrot virgins), but they weren’t quite as brilliant as the Saturday night we saw them in a Stockwell pub in 2011, so we’ll go instead for Nails, who eventually made it over to London this year and who blasted out pure powerviolence/grind brilliance. The sweat-drenched Underworld, of course, never strikes you as a venue designed for allowing you to actually see the bands, unless the night's thinly-enough attended that you can actually get into the central pit in front of all the pillars and railings. But this was a gig that we loved despite not being able to see more of the band than the drumkit, and occasional glimpses of the singer's head.
Reissue of the year: Ripcord's “Poetic Justice”, finally repackaged by Boss Tuneage, is a fabulous album which stands as strong now as it did when I was 15 and gleefully extracted it from the racks of the Basildon branch of Our Price, who were morally obliged to charge me no more than £4.50 for it because that was what was printed on the front cover. Ripcord’s no-nonsense West Country hardcore was positive, political, honest and passionate, and ablaze with cracking hooks and it was no wonder, in the circumstances, that John Peel gave them his seal of approval. Alongside fellow denizens of the Peel show, Heresy, they are too-often forgotten and cruelly underrated by comparison to the wider fame of their more metal-influenced “Britcore” contemporaries like Napalm Death and Extreme Noise Terror. They really shouldn’t be. And, as the band themselves acknowledge in the sleeve notes to this CD reissue (which comes with a bonus 24 live tracks, taking the total up to 45!), this album was probably their finest hour.
“Poetic Justice” was recorded by Martin Nichols at the White House in Weston-super-Mare, the same producer and studio that brought us Brighter’s “Laurel”, and both are seamless works of art despite coming from sonically different places. “Poetic Justice” burns with energy and heart and contains punk classics like “Fools To Persist”, “Collision of Vision”, the longer Dag-Nasty ish “Cross Culture” and last but not least, the mighty title track which is perhaps their anthem: like Heresy’s go-to track, “Acceptance”, “Poetic Justice” the song has pace, power, lyrical clout and spot-on sentiment. An inspirational end to an inspirational album from an inspirational band.
And a BIG shout-out too for Emily's fantastic "A Retrospective", from 2016 but which we stupidly slept on until this year. Despite not even featuring their best-known EP, their "Irony" set for Creation, it shows off some serious strength-in-depth.
V/a comp of the year: It's hard to look beyond Matinée Recordings' "Matinée Idols" set, showcasing no less than 14 label artistes, especially when it contained gems like Last Leaves' "Something Falls" and Math & Physics' "Shadows Longer". We also spent many an afternoon delighting in the new Hermit Crabs tune; a typically unassuming bundle of jangly joy from Electric Pop Group; and the dependably Brighteresque strum of new Matinée signings the Royal Landscaping Society. Short of persuading the Would-be-Goods, Sportique, Roy Thirlwall or Keris Howard out of their apparent retirements, it's hard to see how it could be much better. A worthy testament to a label that didn't even let evacuation caused by wildfires deflect it from its mission of bringing all of us great pop music 24/7.
Artist retrospective of the year: The Orchids, “Who Needs Tomorrow?” At first we thought, it was a bit of a shame that we already had everything on disc one. But then we realised that disc two was for us, the "for fans only” selection of sweet out-takes, rarities and a majestic "Underneath The Window" re-record. And then we realised that anyone who buys this and wasn’t already a fan will become a fan while listening to disc one. And will then love disc two too as a result. So, for once, "for fans only" = "for all sane music lovers out there". Back of the net.
Best new compilation from old band: The Remote Viewer's “Us. In Happier Times”, on Other Ideas. As befits a massively overlooked combo with a random back catalogue, wry sense of humour and love of quirky titles, this is a limited, vinyl-only LP comp of previously unknown lost tunes, on an obscure label and with a brilliantly hard-to-work-out title. Like everything else they did (by way of just one random example, we’ve just found a copy of a 7” picture disc split with Kid 606 and improbably entitled "A Fielder") it comfortably fits the rather over-used description “hidden treasure”.
Best box set: The Fall “Singles 1978-2016". Yes, *all the As and Bs*. "Wings", "Fantastic Life", "Marquis Cha-Cha", "Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul", "Bingo Master's Breakout", "Behind The Counter, "Bury", "Touch Sensitive", "I'm Into CB", "Draygo's Guilt", "The Chiselers", "Lucifer Over Lancashire", "Putta Block", "Hey!" Luciani", "Pat-Trip Dispenser"... this list really does go on and on. This will make you wonder how you ever took them for granted.
Exhibition of the year: Arte Povera at the Estorick Collection. Gavin Turk and friends, as inspired by the Poor Art movement, display their modernist wares alongside some of their the original Italian inspirations.Opera of the year: Brett Dean’s “Hamlet” turned up at G (that’s motherjumbling Glyndebourne) and was surprisingly, y’know, melodic: from our stint at a Dean symphony in Berlin we were expecting Front 242 or à;GRUMH, but it turned out to be 100x more listenable than some of the things foisted on us by the Ed Sheeran corporation this year. And - we'd venture - a good way to take on Shakespeare's albatross without simply stumbling through cliche for for hours.
Theatre: "Wilde Creatures" at the Vaudeville, part of their 2017 'Oscar' season. Wilde's collection of fairy tales get somewhat overlooked by us-grown ups, but have a strange magic at this time of year, as well as a worrying topicality.
Veggie fry-up place: I mean, we’re quite fond of music and all that, but this is probably the key award of the year for us, and has been for a couple of decades now. As ever, there’s been lots of jostling for position: the Workers Café has slipped a little, despite its evergreen popularity (last time we had to politely traipse up to the desk to ask them whether we could have a knife and fork). Others are there or thereabouts (nice Mediterranean all-day platter from the Lakeside Cafe at Alexandra Park earlier today), but it’s the unlikely and tiny venue of Coffee Corner, on Highbury Corner, that we promise you now consistently cooks up the best veggie breakfast we’ve had for aeons, better than Veli’s in his pomp (pre-Emirates, pre- that trouble with the food hygiene rating) or possibly even the good old days of Clapham Common’s best, and at times rival breakfast shops (ask the Lucksmiths about those, if you don’t believe us).
Chinese takeaway: It's Kan's. Again, it's unassumingly tucked away in not the most salubrious bit of the Islington / Hackney borders, but surely still one of the best in the whole of north London. In ilwtt, isott-delighting news, it also has (tenuous) links to both C86 and 4AD...
Backs-to-the-wall performance of the year: This was before we began shipping goals by the shedload: the young Rovers team that went to Fulham (Ryan Sessegnon et al) in the League Cup and resolutely refused to buckle after having nicked a fine early goal. The performance made me swell with pride, and most critically of all raised my expectations in order that the team could then spend the rest of the year dashing them by being as porous as a pound shop sieve. Rovers also contrived to dent the record books in 2017/18 by amassing zero draws in their first 23 league games, before a triumphant 0-0 at Walsall on Boxing Day (an extremely rare clean sheet into the bargain). A typical Rovers claim to fame, and utter pools coupon chaos.