The Pull, Part 14

Allow me to present what is effectively Winchester Mission Control, just six days before we launch the rocket towards its destination. The large pile cluttering up the centre of the image above is made entirely of clothes I will be taking – in the process of clearing out the wardrobe, I was surprised to discover that I owned many more T-shirts than I thought I did! The garments that had to be retired after years of loyal service were consigned to one of two other piles, and as I write this they are destined either for the charity shop or to be used as miscellaneous rags in one of Dad’s many household jobs. I have to say that seeing everything I would definitely need grouped together made the whole exercise feel somewhat therapeutic – together with Mum I had been ruthless and made some sacrifices, which did feel quite calming. The first thing that introduced even a modicum of stress to proceedings was deciding what to wear to the ball I have booked a ticket for during my fresher’s week.

The dress code is very much a formal one, but even though that seems straightforward enough, it did open up something of a small can of worms, because “formal” can mean any one of a number of style choices. I tend not to be good at those, so I turned to my new flatmates for a spot of fashion advice – I had no idea whether I should choose a jacket, waistcoat, shirt and tie, bow tie, or anything in between. Panicking, I put the question forward, but the response was encouraging and it really helped to defuse the situation. The general consensus was that I should go for whatever I felt most comfortable in, since all of the contenders fell under the umbrella of formality. I have therefore decided to keep it simple – as things stand, I will be opting for a shirt, a tie, and a nice pair of trousers in an attempt to look dapper.

That particular dilemma was thus resolved, but what remained proved to be just as difficult. As I plan to take my record player away with me, I needed to choose ten albums that I simply could not do without. Panic filled my brain – what if I sorely regretted one or more of my choices, and couldn’t do anything about it? This notion immobilised me for a moment, causing me to flick through my collection aimlessly before I gathered my thoughts and decided my choices had be well-established, undoubted favourites. You can see one of them in the bottom right-hand corner of the picture – Oasis’ Be Here Now (1997). It is one of two albums by the Manchester greats that I selected. The other was their debut (and absolute finest hour) Definitely Maybe (1994), and that in turn was accompanied by Blur’s Parklife (1994), Pulp’s Different Class (1995), The Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow (1984), Jamiroquai’s Automaton (2017), Busted’s Night Driver (2016), Muse’s Black Holes and Revelations (2006), Moby’s Play (1999), and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979). They have now been separated from their fellow LPs ready to be packed up, and I have reassured myself that if I do regret not bringing one or more alternatives, I can just listen to them on Spotify instead. That’s it now, though – final choices are being made and the final ball has been set in motion. When those records next see the light of day, they will be two whole counties away…

Mason

 

The Top Twenty Records Of All Time

I’m willing to bet that most people have a definitive list of songs they consider to be extra special to them – their Desert Island Discs, if you like. Mum certainly does, only hers is an ever-changing beast. The Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr Blue Sky” and Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” seem to be permanent fixtures, but otherwise her self-proclaimed list of her top twenty songs of all time is never quite the same, sometimes from day to day. On occasion, it numbers more than twenty, and although I have challenged Mum on this, it seems I may never get a proper answer regarding what the actual fixed selection is. The questions, however, did lead to me considering what my own list would have on it. I’m not sure I could think of as many as Mum, but I’m confident that I can aim for eight.

On Desert Island Discs (which I only listen to when someone interesting is a guest – Murray Walker and Noel Gallagher featured on the last two occasions), the participant is asked to choose eight songs they would take away with them if they were to be marooned on a hypothetical island. They discuss their reasoning behind each choice before a snippet is played, and at the end of the programme they must also select one luxury (limited only by the imagination as pretty much anything goes), and one book (which they are granted alongside the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare). Following Mum’s indecisiveness, and an extensive pondering period, I have now concluded that they are as follows (in this post you can have the first four, with YouTube links – I’ll get back to you on the rest).

 

  1. “Canned Heat” by Jamiroquai. You need only read this to find out why the Space Cowboys make this list. And I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this song played live!
  2. “Your Love Alone is Not Enough” by Manic Street Preachers and Nina Persson. Whilst this isn’t a very heartfelt song, it gets the blood pumping and has all the hallmarks of a great anthem and crowd-pleaser. On my tenth birthday in 2007, I was given a CD copy of Now 67, on which it features. Along with Paolo Nutini’s “New Shoes”, it was one of the hits on the album that really stood out as I listened to it on my cheap imitation iPod. I knew nothing of the Manics, their reputation or their success when I first heard this, but it paved the way to me becoming a fan, and I now eagerly soak up their music. I’m happy to report that their new single “International Blue” is another winner! Above all of this, however, it brings back memories of a simpler time of life in Year 5 at school. A time of fish and chips on Friday lunchtimes, green ties, house points and two pieces of homework a week. Next to no adult responsibilities whatsoever. Bliss.
  3. “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane. I’ve always felt drawn to this band, and their use of the piano as a lead instrument on a lot of their material. Perhaps it adds an extra sense of depth, grandiosity or profoundness to their music – I’m not an expert, so I don’t know. But what I am certain of is that I have always been awed by that special something, and it must be at least partially responsible for my decision to take up the piano nearly five years ago. This particular song is one of my favourites because, rather aptly, it always reminds of somewhere – or, more importantly, someone – particularly meaningful to me. It gained added significance in Year 12, when the appearance of the 2013 John Lewis Christmas advert in our Media lessons meant that I got to hear the equally sublime Lily Allen version of the song on a weekly basis for a while. It was a selection that suited the advert perfectly (maybe I’m biased, but I personally believe that John Lewis haven’t managed to top it since), and its use in sixth form made it even more special, since it would be forever connected with a great period in my life.
  4. Any one of four Muse songs (either “Supermassive Black Hole”, “Knights of Cydonia”, “Plug In Baby” or “Defector”). Yes, I know this is technically cheating because I’m supposed to choose a definitive eight, and I know that’s exactly what I promised would result at the beginning of this post. But as soon as I knew that Muse could not be left off of this list, I also knew that I would find it incredibly difficult to single out one of their many absolute bangers for inclusion on it. You know how some musicians talk in interviews about their formative moments, often from their youth? Whilst I will never claim to be a musician, hearing Matt Bellamy’s voice for the first time in Year 12 did – as I have often related since – send a shiver down my spine as the hairs on the back of my neck stood. It sounds clichéd, but it’s absolutely true. I believe his voice can be placed alongside the greatest in music, and its power is a perfect match for the two bandmates who drive the group’s monstrous sound, bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard. The three form an unbeatable combination that I am desperate to see live – and, with new music arriving on the scene almost as I write, I might get that chance sooner than I’m expecting. I had hoped that by the time I’d finished typing Muse’s section, I might have decided which of those four songs to take to my desert island, but it seems that as with the next four (and my book and luxury, you’re just going to have to wait). Watch this space for the tunes to come!

Mason

Harmonised

I wanted to share another one of my thoughts about Saturday’s Jamiroquai gig (see The Funk Is Here To Stay, Part 2) – particularly a new feeling that had never struck me before until I was sat there, with my eyes transfixed on the stage and the lights dancing around it. I was on the crest of a wave during the opening montage of the show, scarcely believing that I was really at the concert which had been so hotly anticipated since April. The rollercoaster ride was about to begin, and I eagerly looked around at all of the other arrivals streaming in by the minute. They varied greatly in age, from the under-tens to pensioners I would never previously have expected to see at that kind of gig. Like me, some were wearing Jamiroquai t-shirts or hats, and one man even chose to sport a full Native American headdress in honour of Jay Kay’s love of headgear. I noticed that some of these items of clothing were older and perhaps suggestive of a longer obsession with the band than others – and this, in turn, got me wondering what each fan’s individual story was. How and when did they first fall in love with Jay, his band and his music?

The man himself mentioned mid-show that 25 years have now passed since the release of the first Jamiroquai album, Emergency on Planet Earth. Judging by the reaction that statement received, there were definitely fans in the arena who had been there for that first record, and had been hooked ever since. But there were also fans whose love developed from every subsequent nook and cranny of Jamiroquai history, such as those who grew up at the height of their fame – ensnared, maybe, by Travelling Without Moving or Synkronized – or those closer in age to me, who might have encountered Noughties albums such as Dynamite in mid-adolescence. And then, finally, there are the very youngest, who may only have found the Space Cowboys with the release of the “Automaton” single in January. It’s fascinating to think about, but it obviously doesn’t matter at all. What matters most is that we’re all on the aforementioned rollercoaster together at the same time, feeling the sheer power music can have in a live setting – the sort that can bring a tear to one’s eye if they’re passionate enough. Regardless of who we are, or where we come from, we’re all there to be dazzled and entertained in perfect harmony, making memories to last a lifetime.

Mason

The Funk Is Here To Stay, Part 2

Three days after first writing about my love for Jamiroquai in The Funk Is Here To Stay, Mum surprised me after work with the news that she’d booked two tickets for us to see the band live at Arena Birmingham in November. I was thrilled and overjoyed in equal measure, since I could not have wished for a better first concert to attend, and spent the next few months adamant that it would the unquestionable highlight of my year. The big day came around in what seemed like the blink of an eye, and last night the wait was over as Mum and I found ourselves seated in the arena with a clear view of the stage ahead. Around us, the seats were gradually filling up as a steady stream of standing spectators also made their way in, leaving very little free space by the time Jamiroquai walked on to widespread screams of adulation at around 8:30pm. Those who weren’t already at their seats were seemingly late because their determination to get a pint in the bar queue eclipsed their hunger for the music – more fool them, because here was one show nobody should want to miss a second of.

As Mum and I finished our own beers – Heinekens presented in a plastic equivalent of the normal green glass bottle – the atmosphere in the arena was one that, as Murray Walker once said, you could cut with a cricket stump. The fans present were comprised of the young and old alike, and all including myself gave an equally loud and rapturous reception to the montage of video clips that heralded the start of the gig, fitting with the theme of the Automaton album they represented. Sections of various news reports and TV programmes warned us of the potential rise of robots and machines in society, as swathes of colour and computer graphics accompanied it on the other screens. With that, the evening was underway, and Jay Kay (appropriately behatted with his new colour-changing electronic headpiece) and co emerged to begin an infectious two-hour set, starting with Automaton‘s opening track, “Shake It On”. From the very first note, it became even clearer than before that I was in the presence of some exceptionally talented musicians, as well as a Jay who had not lost a single shred of his ability to sing, dance or have an audience eating out of the palm of his hand. I was a willing contributor to every deafening roar that responded to his performances and between-song banter, and the band definitely made sure to pull out the crowd-pleasers. I would rate “Space Cowboy”, “Cosmic Girl”, my personal favourite “Canned Heat” and encore finale “Virtual Insanity” as the songs that drew the biggest audience participation, although my voice was almost hoarse – along with plenty of others – from belting out every tune that Jamiroquai treated us to. I have not felt as alive as I was then for some time, swept up in a wave of disco hysteria and adrenaline amongst the addictive rhythms. Another notable inclusion in the set was “(Don’t) Give Hate a Chance”, chosen in tribute to those killed in May at the Manchester Arena, while “Too Young to Die” was performed live for the first time in 15 years, according to Jay. There was even something for the hardcore aficionados in the form of 1994 album track “The Kids” – a song even I didn’t know the words to!

The whole show really was a treat for all the senses. There was ear joy from both the music and the wildly enthusiastic audience, a feast for the eyes thanks to the abundance of colour – both from the big screens and Jay’s hat – and the rows of (sometimes drunken) dancing fans leaping from their seats to boogie, the feel of my £20 souvenir programme, which really will be something to cherish with the gig itself, the taste of my ice-cold Heineken and even the smell of chips and vinegar from some of the other seats. Everything about last night will stay vividly in my mind forever, but the mighty Jamiroquai were, of course, its crowning glory – and I just hope there’s plenty more where that came from. I left with a huge smile plastered on my face and a sense of joy that will never leave me, having been blessed with a night’s entertainment from a group of musical heroes that can never be taken away. I have now promised Mum that I’ll have to buy her a concert ticket or two very soon!

Mason