Friday, June 30, 2023

More mental heath and music musings


Lewis Capaldi’s episode at Glastonbury is a timely reminder of the precarious nature of celebrity, writes Michael Taylor. 

The fact he's honest enough to admit to needing a break makes you think about what so many others are bottling up.

We don’t get that much feedback on our show. Most of it is quite nice. But in the social media age, everyone is fair game.

Our own Angela Rayner spoke recently about the scrutiny and abuse women in the public eye get on social media. It’s as true of politicians as it is about musicians, actors, artists of any description.

Full disclosure, I’d find it unbearable to get that much abuse and scrutiny. I’m much more comfortable in the relative obscurity of local media, thank you very much.

I’ve spoken before about how I’m a terrible critic, and no kind of music reviewer.

I just can’t bring myself to trash the work of someone who has way more resilience and courage to get up and do what they do, than I could ever dream of. 

I therefore err on the side of saying nothing, rather than being mean. Simply playing someone’s music and saying we like it is as far as we mean to go.

Choosing tunes is subjective enough. Personally, I just don’t rub along with the music of Elton John. Yet he clearly has got on absolutely fine without my patronage and endorsement.

Which brings me to music, mental health and personal resilience. 

I don’t equate the two, by the way. 

But you can’t just look the other way and think a pile on, a media scrum and an open season on someone’s personal life is a price worth paying.

In the music world that’s got to be linked to the prevalence of artists who take their own lives. The successful ones we hear about, but what about the ones who could have been, but only ever got a snide review on page 78 of the NME that finished their career in 1983.

How do you live with that?

But I picked up a book a couple of weeks ago, Bodies, by author Ian Winwood who explores the music industry’s many failures, from addiction and mental health issues to its ongoing exploitation of artists. 

On the face of it, money, freedom, adoring fans: professional musicians seem to have it all. But beneath the surface lies a frightening truth: for years the music industry has tolerated death, addiction and exploitation in the name of entertainment.

Winwood explores the industry's reluctance to confront its many failures in a far-reaching story which features first-hand access to artists such as Foo Fighters, Green Day, Trent Reznor, Biffy Clyro, Kings of Leon, Chris Cornell, Mark Lanegan, Pearl Jam. Much more than a touchline reporter, Winwood also tells the tale of his own mental-health collapse following the shocking death of his father. 

I’m enjoying its warmth and humanity, but at times quite shocked by his bracing honesty, especially as Bodies is also a deeply personal story where he displays an enormous amount of vulnerability. 

The paperback edition I got has an additional poignancy with a brand new chapter covering the death of Taylor Hawkins, the Foo Fighters drummer, and his massive Wembley memorial concert.

We call our show Music Therapy because we both get the link between music, mental health and the capacity it has to make us feel better.

We’re not blind to the toll however that the production of that magic takes on its creators. Bless them all. 

Friday, June 23, 2023

Nick Drake and the Endless Coloured Ways

Endless coloured ways.jpg 

Nick Drake looms large in our minds as the very essence of English melancholia.

He died in 1974 aged just 26, unappreciated and though loved deeply by his family and close friends, in relative obscurity.

The days of appreciation and discovery of his genius would come much later.

But a new book and a unique collection of records inspired by his songs have been released this year. 

I first discovered him around 1992, thanks to my friend Dr Richard Bircher, the Stalybridge GP, and sometime contributor to this newspaper.

I can’t claim that I was any kind of early adopter, but Richard’s sharing of the Way to Blue collection was an absolutely eye opener and an appreciation of a masterful collection of atmospheric quintessentially English folk inspired songs.

Since then Nick Drake has been mythologised and studied, time and time again. 

There have been documentaries, radio programmes - one notably by Brad Pitt - and collections of his music.

His life spans a colonial upbringing in Burma, childhood in Warwickshire, life at boarding school and then Cambridge and in London, then back to his parents' home in Tamworth. 

There is no film of him in existence and his quiet folk style made his one live tour a disaster. His lack of success and gradual withdrawal end with his death at 26. The last two years crippled by depression.

This new book Nick Drake: The Life, by Richard Norton Jack has been released as close as it’s possible to be, an official account, or at least one compiled with the co-operation of Gabrielle, his older sister and Cally Calloman, who manages the Nick Drake Estate on her behalf, ensuring that is music lives on, in the right way.

It starts with the premise that in 1968 Nick Drake had everything to live for. The product of a loving, creative family and a privileged background, he was not only a handsome and popular Cambridge undergraduate, but also a new signing to the UK’s hippest record label, Island.

Three years later, however – having made three well-reviewed but low-selling albums – Nick had been overwhelmed by mental illness. He returned to live in his family home in rural Warwickshire in 1971, and died in obscurity in 1974, aged just 26.

In the decades since, Nick has become the subject of ever-growing fascination and speculation. Combined sales of his records now stand in the millions, his songs are frequently heard on TV and in films, and he has become one of the most widely known and admired singer-songwriters of his generation.

Nick Drake: The Life is the only biography of Nick to be written with the blessing and involvement of his sister and Estate. Drawing on copious original research and new interviews with his family, friends and musical collaborators, as well as deeply personal archive material unavailable to previous writers – including his father’s diaries, his essays and private correspondence – this is the most comprehensive and authoritative account possible of Nick’s short and enigmatic life.

It includes a foreword by Gabrielle Drake and over 75 photos, many rare or previously unseen.

Also out now is The Endless Coloured Ways, a collection of Nick Drake songs performed and recorded by over 30 incredible artists from a range of different backgrounds, genres, age groups and audiences. From Fontaines D.C to Guy Garvey, and Aurora to Feist, each artist has offered their own incredible take on a timeless classic.

“Cally and I embarked on this venture with one simple brief to each of the artists — that they ignore the original recording of Nick’s, and reinvent the song in their own unique style,” Jeremy Lascelles from Chysalis Records said in a statement. “It was really humbling to hear so many similar responses, with everyone saying how important Nick’s music was to them, and how much they wanted to be part of this project. As the results came in one by one, we were thrilled by the brilliance and invention that each artist had shown. They had done exactly what we hoped for — they had made the song their own.”

We played Cello Song by Fontaines D.C. on the show last week, and John Parish and Aldous Harding’s take on “Three Hours” the week before. They are works of great beauty, and we plan to share a couple more from the collection next time around.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Pick your festival, pick your tribe


All over the country and even closer to home, summer is the time of tribal gatherings.

Yep, it’s festival season. No more football, where tribes are defined by the team we support, and fans come from all backgrounds, in all shapes and sizes, whether they are following their team to Curzon Ashton away or to Istanbul.

The weekend before last the youngsters thronged to the Neighbourhood weekender in Warrington to sing ‘f**k the Tories’ to the tune of Pigbag, whipped up by scouse songman Jamie Webster.

Loved to see it, said a local Labour MP, cue howls of outrage from the perpetually offended of middle England and the snowflakes at their house journal, The Daily Mail. 

Advertisers and political parties like to identify types and their tropes, and when even “Deano” is railing at the government you know it’s time is up. 

Who is Deano? I hear you ask, he lives in a new build in Glossopdale, or Hurst, works in sales, has a German car, likes his holidays, has mates in the forces so probably has a Help for Heroes sticker in his car.

Deano was at The Arctic Monkeys at Old Trafford, possibly the Courteeners, and definitely chanting along at Neighbourhood.    

Meanwhile, in a few weeks time, it will be party time for Mavis at the Blue Dot Festival at Jodrell Bank.

Mavis stands for Middle Aged Volatile Insurgents. 30s to 50s, green, liberal, professional, educated, hate Brexit. Culturally open-minded, like a bit of world music, new ideas, and comedy.

They aren’t conservative, because they don’t see that they have anything to conserve. 

I’m at the older end of the Mavis spectrum, but I was definitely with my tribe at the weekend at the Kite Festival in Oxfordshire.

Once again we hired a VW Transporter from Alex at VDubhire in Hyde, headed down the M6 and camped out next to polo field in middle England.

By day we listened to talks and interviews from people as diverse at Michael Gove and Sir John Major, to Joan Collins, Simon Sinek, Susannah Hoffs and Alastair Campbell.

A lot of them have got a book to plug, which is fine, because it gives them something urgent to say to make you want to trot along to the Blackwells tent and buy a copy. Which we did.

It obviously works, because Alastair Campbell sold out his book and the shop wished they’d stocked more.

You also get to meet a lot of these people and see how decent they are in person.

We met Nihal Arthanayake off the radio. He interviews people on BBC Radio 5 Live and he’s very, very good at it. Same with a guy called Alexi Mostrous who makes what he calls WTF Podcasts. Shocking gotchas with twists and real life nutters. I get a buzz off them and loved hearing the tricks of his trade. Turns out he only lives a few miles away in Stockport, so hopefully I’ll bump into him again soon.

We ate Tibetan curry, Indian rolls, bagels, all manner of artisanal gorgeousness and slapped on the factor 30 in searing English summer heat.

By night we saw mostly incredible older women. Candi Staton, Chrissy Hynde, Alison Goldfrapp and Susanah Hoffs. 

There’s also a micro tribe of male fans of certain females of a certain age, right down to the record label t-shirt, the tank cap and the facial hair. I first spotted them at the front of a Saint Etienne concert, and they managed to find their way to the vantage point at Kite too.

Which brings us back to Susannah Hoffs. She was there to promote a book she’s written, a novel, but she didn’t disappoint with low key acoustic renditions of Manic Monday and Eternal Flame.

Our adult offspring were at the Etihad watching Weeknd, by the way.

Which leads me to ask one final thing. Who on earth filled the Etihad the week before to see Coldplay?

Friday, June 02, 2023

Why I'm indifferent about an Oasis comeback


Talk in music circles right now is thick with speculation that an Oasis reunion concert - or tour, might be on the cards.

The relative success of Blur getting together has put it out there again, and in the course of promoting his new solo album Council Skies, Noel Gallagher has been in a reflective mood. 

Separated from his second wife, he’s open about finding life in his 50s tough and has felt he's been going downhill compared to the wild times of his earlier years.

He’s called out his young brother’s Twitter posturing and invited him to call it on. He’s said he’s free around the back end of next year, but doesn't think Liam could stomach being in the same room as him.

Some people even think this is just a cynical bit of marketing and that the deal is already sealed.

If they reformed, the question you inevitably find yourself asking is - would you go?

It’s made me try and reconcile a few random and contradictory thoughts I have about them.


In the 1990s I supported them, bizarrely, in the same way I instinctively supported Blackburn Rovers, New Labour and England for Euro 96 - and what a decade that was. In the Britpop war I was Team Oasis over Blur any day of the week. Maybe it was being a Northerner in the south at the time.

A couple of weeks ago on the show we played some early Blur and it’s brilliant. That whole confected row with Blur was idiotic, probably rooted in a desire to endlessly punch Alex James in the face, which is understandable. But you have to say Blur have played the better hand over the years.

At the time Oasis felt edgier. Those first two Oasis albums were blisteringly good. They captured a time and had an incredible energy, the concerts in this country were the closest experience I'd had to what The Jam created from 1978-1982.

Yet for me, one of their best songs is on their rotten third album, All Around The World on Be Here Now.

Even then you could imagine sitting down and having a drink with Noel and rather enjoying it. Not so with Liam.

But for all of the attempts in some of that more expansive third album, as a band they never really moved on. You could play each subsequent album to a man from planet Zarg and they'd never place them in evolutionary order. 

I contrast that with, say, the Arctic Monkeys who although the indie lads in bucket hats will have enjoyed the recent concerts, they have transformed in every way.

Part of me just wants to hold on to cherished memories. I saw Oasis at their blistering best in 1996 in San Francisco. Then a few weeks later in Cardiff headlining with the Manics in support. It was electric.

Back then I thought Noel would ditch his simian brother and do bigger and better things with his pals like Paul Weller and Ocean Colour Scene. That said Echo Round the Sun on Weller's 22 Dreams is the worst track - and Noel's on it - and I don’t think Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds have ever really cut it.

Council Skies has had good reviews and I don't hate it.

The other thing that saddens me about the Gallaghers is how they've turned their backs on Manchester, which is a shame. Mick Hucknall's millions are invested in the city. Where are the Gallaghers?