Here’s my 2019 Spotify mix. Tunes, old and new, that I discovered in the last year. Listen at the link below:
It’s a rather parochial list this time – only seven countries covered (the most being from England, the USA and – reflecting 2019’s travels – India)! But it’s a goodun.
1. Kirsty McGee and the Hobopop Collective – Madness and the Moon
It’s standard practice for me to begin with my favourite song of the year. This is the umpteenth time I’ve featured Kirsty McGee on one of my mixes. I’ve told you before what a astute songwriter she is, how she creates compelling melodies, plays neat guitar and is a masterful self-producer. Her latest is a career highlight, even by her standards. This is a grounded, cosmic love song. Here’s the video: https://youtu.be/vyhIVPKOpgs
From The Deafening Sound of Stars (Hobopop Recordings, 2019). Available to buy directly at https://kirstymcgee.bandcamp.com/album/the-deafening-sound-of-stars.
2. Vampire Weekend – Harmony Hall
An upbeat, nearly trance-y song from Vampire Weekend with a typically nifty guitar, but it seems to explore rather darker lyrical matter.
From Father of the Bride (Spring Snow / Columbia, 2019). Available to buy directly at https://vampireweekend.frocksteady.com.
3. The Edwin Hawkins Singers – To My Father’s House
Hawkins (1943 – 2018) was a famous gospel leader, best known for his arrangement of ‘Oh Happy Day’. Hubbie Owen introduced this one to me. Friend Julius called it ‘gospel drum & bass’ and had to be convinced it is all live and not a remix!
Available on The Very Best of the Edwin Hawkins Singers: 16 Inspirational Recordings (Music Collection International, 1996)
4. Puḷḷavan singers and musicians – Sarpam Pāṭṭu: Oh Excellent Serpents
I spent a month in Kerala, south-west India in February and listened to a lot of old recordings both before and after as research. Here’ s an evocative 1960s recording. The boingy percussion is the pulluvakudam – an ‘earthen pot whose base is removed and replaced by the skin of an Iguana, which is pasted on. Through its centre a small hole is made and a string attached to it by a knot. This string the player fixes to his left foot (he is seated cross-legged on the ground) and with his right hand, by means of pressure from a small wooden cylinder on the taut string, he can adjust the tension and so the pitch of the instrument’.
The song is part of a children’s dance: ‘Figures of serpents are drawn in the different coloured sands or grains. Children […] enjoy the quiet singing and playing, sweeping the ground about them to the rhythm with coconut and areca-nut fronds. They then lie down and roll upon the figure of a serpent. Then the people ask the children for boons and the children give their blessing. ‘ You can read more about it here: https://tinyurl.com/rzhgjqj.
From Music of South India: Kerala (1961, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings). Available to buy directly at https://folkways.si.edu/music-from-south-india-kerala/world/album/smithsonian.
5. Ranveer Singh, DIVINE, Naezy and Sez On The Beat – Mere Gully Mein
And now something up to date from India. Soumik Datta presented an excellent series on the BBC called ‘Rhythms of India’, where he explored the lot – from folk forms to classical music to modern day hip-hop, like this number. It’s a hit from the film Gully Boy, about a rapper from the slums of Mumbai. The original version was by beatmaker Sez on the Beat and rappers DIVINE and Naezy. This version has added vocals by Singh, one of the actors in the film.
From Gully Boy (Zee Music Company, 2019)
6. JARV IS… – MUST I EVOLVE?
Human evolution and middle age angst in one big ball of chaos from our Jarvis Cocker and band (including harper Serafina Steer).
Available as a single (Rough Trade, 2019). Available to buy direct from https://jarvis.ffm.to/mustievolve.
7. Black String – Hanging Gardens of Babylon
You know by now how I love Korean tradi-modern music, yes? But I was perturbed to find that the most successful Korean band in world music circles since Jambinai… wasn’t to my taste. I went to their London show in 2017 and it wasn’t for me. Too jazzy, too angular, too dry. I wasn’t going to see them this year but it turns out I was free on the night so I thought I’d give it a go. And you know what? I loved them. And I love their new album. Turns out the promise others had obviously seen before is now much more apparent.
From Karma (ACT Music, 2019). Available to buy direct at www.actmusic.com/en/Artists/Black-String/(releases)/0.
8. S. R. Mahadeva Sarma, S.R. Rajasree and Prof. M. Subramonia Sarma – Marakodi Sundari
When I was in Thiruvananthapuram, India I visited the home of Professor M. Subramonia Sarma, Kerala’s most prestigious carnatic violinist. There I interviewed him and two of his pupils: his son S. R. Mahadeva Sarma and daughter S.R. Rajasree . I was due to write it up in an article for fRoots Magazine, but sadly the magazine folded. I’m now including them in something I’m writing for Imperica.com.
Here they play the kriti ‘Marakodi Sundari’, which is in the ragam called bahudari and the tala (rhythm) known as adi.
From Gana Sudhakaram (Giri, 2017)
9. Peter Gabriel – In The Sun
Gabriel has belatedly embraced Spotify, this year releasing online both an album of his songs from films (Rated PG) and a sprawling collection of bits and bobs, from which this is taken. It’s a cover of Joseph Arthur’s song, originally recorded, somewhat unlikely, for a tribute album to the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
From Flotsam and Jetsam (Peter Gabriel Inc., 2019)
10. Mavis Staples – No Time For Cryin’
I’ve struggled with the black dog again this year. This song helped me enormously when I was struggling to focus on work. You can see this live recording on YouTube: https://youtu.be/Z7m-kbPOrl8
From Live in London (Anti, 2019). Available to buy directly at https://stores.portmerch.com/mavisstaples.
11. June Tabor – Bentley and Craig
When I find a June Tabor album in a charity shop that I don’t yet have, I can’t resist buying it, hence I heard the classic Aleyn for the first time this year. She’s known as a folk singer, but I think she’s even better when she tackles new songs and indulges her jazzy tendencies. This song, written by Ralph McTell (but substantially reworked here), tells the true story of the unjust hanging of Derek Bentley in 1953.
From Aleyn (Topic Records, 1997). Available to buy direct from www.propermusic.com/tscd490-aleyn.html.
12. Bush Gothic – The London Convict Maid
They don’t get much better than Australian folk trio Bush Gothic, as I continue to tell anyone who will listen. Just listen to this exquisite arrangement of a traditional song and the pain conveyed in Jenny’s vocals and tell me you don’t need to cancel everything to come and see them live (next in the UK in May / June 2020).
From Beyond the Pale (Bush Gothic, 2019). Available to buy directly from www.bushgothic.com/listen.html.
13. Martha Spencer – No Help Wanted
From the sublime to… well, it’s not quite ridiculous but this tune by Virginian Spencer and her band is good daft fun!
From Martha Spencer (Martha Spencer, 2018). Available to buy directly from https://marthaspencer.bandcamp.com/album/martha-spencer.
14. Peggy Seeger – Jack Frost
Two great folk families united here as Peggy Seeger (sister of Pete, wife of Ewan MacColl, grandma of one of Bombay Bicycle Club!) sings a song written by Mike Waterson (brother of Norma and Lal, uncle to Marry and to Eliza Carthy). From an album marking an extraordinary 80 years of Topic Records.
From Vision and Revision: The First 80 Years of Topic Records (Topic Records, 2019)
15. Tricky – Murder Weapon
Nifty segue that one wasn’t it? From the icy chimes of Seeger’s song to the tinkling music box and then… I really enjoyed listening to Tricky’s The First Time With… on BBC Radio 6 Music. I’d never realised he has such a pronounced Bristol burr, and as a fellow Somersetian I heartily approve. My ‘first time’ was hearing this song, a cover of Echo Minott’s original, with Franky Riley on vocals.
From Mixed Race (Domino Recording Company, 2010)
16. Plastician with Skepta – Intensive Snare
Another radio discovery. I assumed this was recent, but it’s over a decade old! This is everything I want from grime.
From Beg to Differ (Terrorhythm Recordings, 2007)
17. Shooglenifty and Dhun Dhora – Jog yer bones
Probably gig of the year was Shooglenifty, back after the sad loss of their charismatic fiddler Angus R Grant, absolutely tearing the venue up with their unstoppable sound. They’ve got this ace new album out of their collab with Indian group Dhun Dhora.
From Written in Water (Shooglenifty, 2018)
18. Edgelarks – Wanting Nothing
Edgelarks – Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin – are always great. The latest album is no exception. This is a ‘song of contentment’. I need more of that in my life.
From Feather (Dragonfly Roots, 2019). Available to buy directly from https://philliphenryhannahmartin.bandcamp.com/album/feather.
19. K.O.G & the Zongo Brigade – For My People
The only flavour of Africa in this year’s mix comes from Anglo-Ghanaian act K.O.G & the Zongo Brigade: an ‘interpretation of genuine African music fused with energy and laced with funk reggae jazz and music from all corners of the world.’
From Wahala Wahala (Pura Vida Sounds / Heavenly Sweetness, 2019). Available to buy directly from https://zongobrigade.bandcamp.com/album/wahala-wahala.
20. Richard Hawley – Coles Corner
Another The First Time With… on BBC Radio 6 Music, introduced me, only 14 years late to this sumptuous recording.
From Coles Corner (Mute Records, 2005)
21. Dolly Parton – Jolene
And more strings – this time accompanying the divine Dolly on a new version of her classic, ‘Jolene’ for the film Dumplin’ (here’s a vid: https://youtu.be/t_ARolo8y8E). Remember when she did Glastonbury and it was really fun but she mimed most of it and no one would believe me even though it was obvious?
From Dumplin’: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Dolly Records / Sony Music, 2018)
22. Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds – I must and will be married
It’s funny how things come around. Naomi Bedford sang on one of my favourite Orbital tunes, ‘Funny Break (One is enough)’ back in 2001. Now she’s making her name as a folk singer, alongside her husband and Man They Couldn’t Hang Simmonds. Here’s the English singer singing an American song that originated in Britain. Video here: https://youtu.be/oVwBfxfumSo
From Singing It All Back Home: Appalachian Ballads of English and Scottish Origin (Dusty Willow Recordings, 2019). Available to buy directly from https://naomibedford.com/shop.
23. Kadri Gopalnath – Nada Tanumanisham
I discovered Gopalnath, a pioneer of saxophone in Indian carnatic music, through Ken Hunt’s recommendation in the Rough Guide to World Music. It was with sadness that, around a week later, I heard that he had died at just 69.
From Gem Tones: Saxophone Supreme, South Indian Style (Globestyle, 2000)
24. Davie Stewart – Daughter Doris
One of my favourite albums of all time is Martyn Bennett’s Grit and when he died in 2005 I remember suggesting a good tribute would be an album of ‘Grit sources’ highlighting the folk music that meant so much to him and was sampled on the album. More recently, Real World Records put out a blog post doing pretty much that – linking to the original tracks on Spotify. For the life of me I can’t find it now, but it did contain the full story of ‘Daughter Doris’ as sampled on Grit’s closing track, ‘Storyteller’. Here’s the collector Hamish Henderson’s explanation:
‘In 1955 a wandering tinker piper from the Arrochar district near Loch Lomond called Davie Stewart – not to be confused with his more famous namesake, the redoubtable Dundee busker – was ‘collected’ by me while playing a selection of marches outside ‘The Blue Blanket’ public house in the Canongate. (His set of pipes lacked a drone, and made such a battered and broken-down impression that it almost looked like a separate sort of instrument). When he was invited to the School of Scottish Studies Davie told a number of stories, including ‘Daughter Doris.’
Almost illiterate, Davie was a well-preserved example of the older-style Scots traveller who was under canvas from one year’s end to the other. His storytelling style imparted to prose narrative not a little of the characteristic self-commiserating tone which we had encountered among some traveller street-singers, but in the tale we have chosen to represent him with, this feature of his style is actually an advantage.’
You can read more about it and a transcription here: https://tinyurl.com/u2r3jo5. I love how, at the end of this detailed, rambling tale, he concludes offhandedly with “So a don’t know very much more about it.”
From Scottish Tradition 17: Scottish Traditional Tales (Greentrax, 2000). Available to buy directly from www.greentrax.com.
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