This month: what I listened to in 2011......
It’s a sign of the times I guess. My Marantz hifi didn’t see much action in 2011. Music was mostly listened to in my home office on my laptop – either pumped through a set of JBL speakers or whatever headphones were working that week. At varying times those headphones included a set of Sennheiser wirelesses (until the battery life depleted to such an extent that I’d struggle to listen to a whole album before they ran out of juice) or a cheap and cheerful set of Tesco earbuds that made up in volume for what they lacked in finesse. As the year ended I invested in a pair of JVC double-Xs, full of bass and grunt.
The Marantz was saved for visits from friends, usually accompanied by frantic air guitar action. On occasion I’d pick up on what Zoe was playing in the kitchen (usually AC/DC or Pink Floyd). Every now and then I watched dawn break whilst taking in something rich and panoramic on my iPhone through the aforementioned cans. The in-car entertainment system was where Rush and Korn found a home. But mostly my trusty HP laptop was the medium of choice for both downtuned riffage and mellower sounds last year.
Music website LastFM and their scrobbler kept a note of my listening on the laptop. It tells me I listened the most to:
1. B.B. King
In his 85th year B.B. King put in a wonderful set at 2011’s Glastonbury Festival. Together with his trusty Gibson ES-355 “Lucille”, Riley King (as his mother knew him) has thrilled audiences for over 55 years. Early in the year I stumbled upon his 1965 concert album “Live At The Regal” and fell in love within minutes. It is music of cultural significance, according to the United States Library of Congress – they entered it into the National Recording Registry in 2005. More importantly it’s an album that fizzes and crackles with energy and I suggest only those without a pulse could resist its charms. King sings like a man on the edge of just about everything. And when he unleashes Lucille in a flurry of notes you can literally hear the impact it has on his audience. Men whoop and holler, women scream and feint. It’s quite something.
As anyone and everyone who knows me will attest, Rush are not just my favourite band but among a handful of things that have defined my life, my character and my personality. Even in a year such as 2011 where their output is restricted to a live album and DVD I listen to their music on a weekly, often daily basis. The day they hang up their kimonos will be a sad and heartfelt one Chez Hard.
Never one to be a sheep I am quite happy to broadcast my love of Korn. Loved and loathed in equal measure during the 90s and Noughties they seem to have come to a place where the loathing has become universal. This is because they have gotten brave and veered away from the Nu Metal that brought them platinum albums with ease. Their 2011 release The Path of Totality mixed their trademark bass-driven foundation-bothering rock with dubstep. Fans ran for the hills, critics enjoyed giving the band a mauling. I, on the other hand, loved it. With everyone else avoiding the record like the plague the band have responded to their more “selective” attractiveness by booking Academy sized venues for their 2012 UK tour. I am thus looking forward to seeing the whites of Jonathan Davies eyes in the spring, rather than searching for the stage with a pair of binoculars.
4. Robin Trower
I’d like to thank The Old Dog for getting me into Trower. This was particularly kind of him considering I stole the woman he was chasing back in 2007. In 2011 The Old Dog gave me everything Trower has ever recorded and I enjoyed unearthing the gold dust that lay within immensely. The album that slayed me was 1974’s Bridge of Sighs. I have climbed into that record and made it my second home. If there is anything more beautiful than Robin’s guitar work on the title track I have yet to hear it. I got to see the man play that song, and many others, this year at Manchester’s Band On The Wall. I felt honoured to be there.
5. ZZ Top
When I was 11 years old I went to a very strict, old fashioned, all boys public school. We would parade down to the refectory in our shorts and caps to be faced with an absolute abomination of a lunch. At this time I was the world’s fussiest eater and the bane of both my parents and my teachers’ lives. This was a time when it was still acceptable to hold a child’s nose until he went purple and opened his mouth, at which point a shovel of the abomination would be cast into the unwilling mouth. If that didn’t work the teacher could resort to holding you up by your ear, or caning your arse in front of your classmates. I somehow managed to swaller the utter shite served up in that refectory, mainly thanks to the distraction of my mate Oliver Bowdon’s ZZ Top key ring, which hung from his trouser beltline every day. I was fascinated by it. Somehow staring at it made the food taste repulsive rather than fecal. When I saw the videos for Legs, Gimme All Your Lovin’ and Sharp Dressed Man I fell in love with both the Ford Eliminator and Billy Gibbons stunning guitar solos. ZZ Top went off the boil after that but 1996’s Rhythmeen put them back on my map and led me to discover the wonders of their 70s output. I listen to the title track of Rhythmeen at least once a week. I can’t wait for their 2012, Rick Rubin produced album to come out.
6. Albert King
I’d love to claim a wide appreciation of the man they called "The Velvet Bulldozer", but it’s all about one album for me: 1967’s Born Under A Bad Sign. I listened to it time and time again in 2011. King’s vocals and guitar playing are great but the real heroes of the album are Booker T and the MGs and the Memphis Horns, who underpin everything with a soulful funkiness that is utterly infectious. Eric Clapton owes his whole career to this album, and that’s a fact.
Page Hamilton and his boys will be gracing these shores in the spring and I have tickets to see them. Last time they came to Manchester they were so good I struggled for adjectives to describe the experience, leaving the venue both exhausted and elated. For me a good gig is one where I can live in the moment and forget everything, I seek a visceral rush and the opportunity to cut loose in a way I would never contemplate outside of a dark concert hall. Helmet is one of a handful of bands who afford me that possibility. The fact Page Hamilton can still make such a racket and love it in his 50s is both life affirming and a promise that the best years of my life might not be in my past.
8. Grand Funk Railroad
Oh to have a time machine. One of the places I would visit would be Florida in the summer of 1970 when Grand Funk Railroad recorded their infamous live album. You’ve got to love a band that rocks so blatantly, with the bass driving the band. You’ve got to respect a group that took so much shit from critics but continued to plough its own furrow based on the love of its audience. GFR was my most significant discovery of the year and their first six albums are now nailed to my virtual turntable.
9. Trippy Wicked & the Cosmic Children of the Knight
I know that when I finally get to see this almighty trio play the songs from their album Movin’ On it will be a religious experience. In my search for ever more dirty guitars, increasingly pummelled drums and the kind of bass playing that scares animals in the wild I discovered Trippy Wicked. With no disrespect intended they are nowhere commercially and thus MY band. When I go to that first Trippy gig there will only be a hundred people there, so I will get to the front and have space around me as I lose the plot in the swirl of Dicky King’s four string rumble, Peter Holland’s axe attack and Chris West’s pan thrashing. I bought 4 of their t-shirts in 2011 and never listened to their music at anything less than tinnitus-inducing volume.
10. The Rolling Stones
Surely Mick and Keef will see in their 70th birthdays at the end of another tour, one that if it starts in 2012 will mark their 50th anniversary. That would be some feat. My latent love of classic, late 60s and early 70s Stones was reignited in 2011 – first when I finally got round to watching the Shine A Light DVD early in the year and subsequently when they released footage of their Some Girls tour. It led me back to their awesome Get Yer Ya Yas Out live album, which spent many hours on my playlist, as well as the purple patch of studio efforts from 1968’s Beggars Banquet through to 1976’s Black and Blue. They might not have served themselves well on vinyl since then but the Stones are surely, along with their rivals and compadres the Beatles, the most important rock band of them all.
Check back in 12 months from now to see what assaulted my ears in 2012.
Slacken the strings.... and use Orange amplification