With predictable inappropriateness the UK’s list of honours for New Year’s Day 2018 was announced two days ago. Highlights include: the musicians Barry Gibb (CBE) and Ringo Starr (MBE); Helen Sharman (OBE), Britain’s first astronaut and passionate promoter of science and technology; and our former deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who gets a well-deserved knighthood.
There are well over 1000 names on the full list, the great majority of them completely unknown to Crotchety Man. A few honours went to ordinary people who have made exceptional contributions to their local communities and I welcome those wholeheartedly. Many gongs, though, seem to have gone to well-connected public figures and shadowy civil servants, small cogs in the almighty political machine grinding out laws and regulations the details of which neither affect the likes of us nor trouble us in any way. It’s hard to know if they were deserved or not.
So I thought I’d make a few awards of my own. Looking back over the Crotchety Man posts of 2017, inventing honours as I went, this is the list that emerged:
Spirit of 2017
Where’s the Revolution by Dépêche Mode.
This last year has been full of dark depressing stories. The seeds of despair were sown in 2016 when Britain voted to leave the EU and America elected Donald Trump as its next president. The consequences of those events have plagued us ever since.
Hardly a day goes by without reports of another argument between the UK and the EU. Theresa May’s decision to hold a General Election to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations backfired spectacularly leaving her weak and her government mercifully ineffectual. The UK has been forced to accept the terms the EU has dictated for leaving their club which, in effect, means that the UK will continue to be bound by EU rules and regulations long after we have officially left. So, how can we gain anything by leaving? But we are committed now so the process shambles on.
The situation in the U.S. is even worse. The yellow haired mop-top has carried out his promise to divide the nation and bring ridicule on his country by appointing unworthy officials, instigating legal changes that he couldn’t carry through and tweeting insults regardless of the consequences. Far from making America great again, Sideshow Don (as one U.S. blogger calls him) has made his country the laughing stock of world. And that’s only the start of it. The POTUS has angered the leader of a state that is building nuclear missiles which will soon be able to hit his homeland and drawn condemnation from every other member of the U.N. for recognising Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, thereby inflaming the delicate political stand-off between Israel and Palestine. If this is statesmanship, I’m a monkey’s uncle.
Both Brexit and Trump came about because of a vote in a hitherto respected democracy which, you remember, is the worst possible political system – except for all the others. In both cases we only have ourselves to blame. Or, as Dépêche Mode put it so eloquently in Where’s the Revolution, “Come on, people, you’re letting me down”.
Back to Our Roots, Album
On Air by The Rolling Stones.
Several tracks from the Rolling Stones most recently released album, On Air, have impinged on the Crotchety ears since it saw the light of day at the beginning of December. It is a compilation of recordings broadcast by the BBC between 1963 and 1965. The quality of the recordings varies but the tracks I have heard all sound remarkably fresh and, in my opinion, represent the Stones at their youthful best.
Winner: Autopsy by Fairport Convention.
Honourable Mention: Making Plans for Nigel by XTC.
Generally speaking this blog has concentrated on new material in 2017 but a few old songs demanded to be included, too. I’ve picked out two that particularly pleased me when I gave them another spin.
When XTC were Making Plans for Nigel I was working on the British Steel ironmaking site at Redcar in north east England. That song reminds me of those times not only because it was new and popular then but also because it paints an inappropriately rosy picture of working for the publicly-owned British Steel Corporation. It’s a good song, too.
But the winner of the Golden Oldie award this year has to go to Autopsy. I had forgotten just how mesmerising this song was. Listening to it inspired a blog about a ladybird with a missing leg wandering through the leaf litter in a garden. She sings to her mate who is trapped in a slough of despondency. She tells him that her love has withered away but they can still be friends. Somehow the offer of friendship only throws the breakup into sharper relief, adding to the grief. A sad song and a classic.
Winner: Starless by The Unthanks.
Honourable Mention: I Promise by Radiohead.
In the Unexpected Pleasure category we have two songs that exceeded my expectations.
Radiohead’s material is almost always interesting and often pleasing but sometimes doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot in Crotchety Man’s soul. I Promise, however, went straight to the heart and will remain there, I’m sure, for many years to come.
The biggest surprise of the year, though, was The Unthanks’ version of the King Crimson song, Starless. It always had a haunting melody but arranging it for voices, trumpet and chamber orchestra has given it a very different character – spooky, spectral, ghostly – as if the original sounds have been wrapped in soft white wisps of ectoplasm and transported to another plane.
Best Live Album
Winner: Finale by Pentangle.
Honourable Mention: Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind by King Crimson.
The King Crimson album is languishing on my wish list. If the reviews I have seen are anything to go by it will be turn out to be terrific but I have heard only one (maybe two) tracks so far and that disqualifies it from the Best Live Album award for 2017. Maybe next year.
In 2008 Pentangle re-formed and played a 12-date tour. The Finale album is a compilation of songs from those gigs. For some reason the album was only released in 2016 and it finally reached the Crotchety ears this year. Live albums used to be marred by muddy sound, poor mix, audience intrusions and lifeless renditions but Finale doesn’t suffer from any of that. In my August review I praised the recording for its clarity and the performance for its freshness and sparkle. It is an essential item for any fan of Pentangle.
Album of the Year
Little Fictions by Elbow.
It doesn’t seem to have been a very good year for albums that were new to Crotchety Man. Little Fictions is the only one of note not already considered in some other category. But don’t think I’m scraping the barrel here. This latest Elbow offering maintains the band’s inventiveness and adds several more tracks destined to become fan favourites. With each new Elbow album I think they must have passed their peak and every time they prove me wrong. Little Fictions is as good as any of the band’s earlier albums, perhaps better, and a worthy winner of this award.
Newcomer of the Year
Winner: London Grammar.
Honourable Mention: Bent Knee.
Although Bent Knee have been around since 2009 they are quite new to me and have not yet featured in these Crotchety pages. They have a highly original sound that I am still trying to evaluate. There are elements of pop, rock and jazz, but the end result is none of those. Avant-garde is an apt but uninformative description. There’s no doubting their skill as musicians, though, and that has earned them an honourable mention here.
London Grammar had also been around for several years before coming to Crotchety Man’s attention in 2017. Their brand of indie pop is built around the soft silky vocals of Hannah Reid. As one reviewer put it, “[it’s] as if she honed her craft singing amidst the gardens of Lothlorien”. When Hannah sings all crotchetiness melts away; that is why I have chosen London Grammar for the Newcomer of the Year award.
Bolek i Lolek by Clarinet Factory.
Now we come to a category invented for no other reason than to highlight a track I thoroughly enjoyed and which doesn’t fit anywhere else. Clarinet Factory is a highly inventive clarinet quartet from the Czech Republic. With just four clarinets and some recorded natural sounds Bolek i Lolek manages to be both stimulating and amusing – qualities that demand full recognition here.
Best Track Title
Winner: The Inexorable Sadness of Pencils by Tomaga.
Honourable mention: The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra by Anna von Hausswolff.
Finally, I couldn’t resist mentioning these two unusual titles, both from this week’s Release Radar. The Tomaga track consists of rather aimless percussion and electronic meanderings; the Hausswolff one is actually a fairly pleasant song that fails, I think, to live up to the promise of its title.
And that concludes the award ceremony. I’d like to thank all the artists who contributed to my listening pleasure this year – you have kept the Crotchety Bogeyman at bay more often than I care to remember. Thank you all.