My Top 10 Live Bands – 6

John Foxx & Louis Gordon

Just like my previous posting in this series, John Foxx is another legendary musician I just assumed I’d never get to hear play live. In this case it was a simple accident of birth, with my being a little too young to go out gigging while he was on the road.

By the autumn of 1997 I was well into my twenties, and by sheer blind luck I passed the now demolished Duchess in Leeds and caught sight of his name on the upcoming gig list. Naturally I was through the door in seconds, and I’ll never forget the barman’s world-weary roll of the eyes as he confirmed that yes, it was the John Foxx, and yes, I could buy advance tickets.

Next thing I knew, I was standing on the street with tickets in hand, less than five minutes after first glancing through that window. Needless to say, the next couple of weeks really seemed to drag as the gig slowly approached.

At last the great day came, and I recall an unexpected feeling of trepidation creeping over me as I waited for the maestro of discordant harmonies to grace the Duchess’ tiny stage. Would he be any good? Could he be any good? How could a middle-aged bloke hiding behind a keyboard expect to engage even an expectant and partisan audience like this one? After all, although Foxx is a fine lyricist and a musical visionary, he’s not exactly a rock front man. How would he pull it off?

As the lights dimmed and both Foxx and Gordon appeared in logo-less black polo necks, my questions about how the great man would win us over were instantly answered.

He used his music. What else?

As the first thumping techno beats of unfamiliarity gradually morphed into the iconic Burning Car, I began to realise I was witnessing something very special. This was John Foxx 2.0; remixed, re-engineered and reimagined for the coming millennium. Unchanged and yet enhanced, balancing both the security of the familiar and the shock of the new by creating a perfect equilibrium between those opposing poles.

With a dizzying array of cutting-edge equipment somehow spliced together with older, more outdated devices, firm favourites were remixed and repackaged; new and improved, yet always faithful to the established and trusted brand.

The King is dead, long live the King!

It’s striking that among all the technological wizardry, one of the things that impressed me most is just how well both Foxx and Gordon could sing and harmonise live on the hoof, especially during those oddly melancholy and off-key moments which are his hallmark.

Foxx and Gordon were nothing short of triumphant conquerors that night, reminding an increasingly pushbutton industry that there’s more to electronic music than simply assembling files. Although the output may be digitised for the information age, Foxx’s great strength has always been that his synthesised concoctions spring from the heart and soul of a true artist.

Long may he reign.

My Top 10 Live Bands – 7

Clan of Xymox

Sometimes life grants us a rare second chance; a chance to turn left instead of right, to say yes instead of no, or maybe to see a live band that we once thought had passed us by.

It was April 2008 when I stumbled across just such a rare chance to watch Clan of Xymox at the Whitby Goth Weekend. I’d never been able to catch them in my teens, twenties or even into my thirties, so I must confess I was a little nervous when the opportunity finally came around. If middle-age teaches us little else, we learn that some things belong strictly to our own history, and the tombs of the past are perhaps sealed for good reason.

Ronny Moorings, April 2008

Thus I remember feeling both excitement and trepidation in equal measure as the Clan finally took to the stage some three decades late. It was kind of an odd feeling to see Ronny Moorings face to face at long last, with Old Father Time having made the same alterations to his features as he had to mine; although with a lot less hair dye in my case.

In any event, the Clan’s performance was proof positive that experience always outlasts exuberance. It was a great gig! The sound was good, the atmosphere was terrific and the playlist was just a bursting box of musical chocolates, packed with old favourites and new flavours to tempt the palate. Naturally the most gratifying part for me was hearing such timeless Goth anthems as Back Door and Cry in the Wind performed live at such an iconic event.

My only regrets were the smoking ban and the present-day perjury of plastic glasses, which left the whole thing feeling perhaps a little too clean and sharp around the edges for my tastes. Nevertheless, the sheer unadulterated joy of such a hugely respected subculture band playing live made me glad I’d decided to break out my black eighties duster. The heavy cotton across my shoulders and the intimately familiar soundtrack filling the air soon dissolved those lost decades into the autumn darkness, leaving me at one with the music, the culture and all it once stood for. It was 1986 again, if only for a short while.

All that’s left is for me to say in closing is a big thank you to Ronny and the gang for unlocking the back door and turning a very personal page in my own social and musical journey. What was a routine gig for you guys was something of a milestone for me, and that’s an experience nobody can ever put a price on.

Images courtesy of Paul M Baxter at Baxter Photography

My Top 10 Live Bands – 8

The Cult

It was a cold November night in 1989 when I finally cornered the Cult. All in all it was a strange kind of courtship, filled with false starts and missed gigs, but we finally managed to meet up in (the now refurbished) Wembley Arena.

Naturally I was excited to catch up with the band who’d released the best rock album of the previous year. However, this gig was so much more than that, and it was as though I and the rest of the audience could feel the chill winds of change on that cold weekend. The shadows had lengthened in the empire of the eighties, and the destructive digital compressions of grunge and nu-metal were already buzzing through long-range receivers.

Ian Astbury, November 1989

But on that night, those things had not yet come to pass, although I think that many of us felt some sense of a last chance of sorts as we gathered to celebrate great music before the landscape heaved and shifted forever.

I hardly need mention that the guys delivered in spades that night, so much so that I went back and bought a ticket from a tout for Sunday night’s performance. Yeah, I’m not proud of it, but that’s the truth. The real problem with doing that is the way that time and alcohol have kind of fused both performances together, melting them into a single, deliriously brilliant musical memory.

The standout moment on both nights was the epic kettledrum intro to Sun King, some percussion bothering I’ve never seen bettered. Hell, none of us even minded when they played Sweet Soul Sister twice for a live recording. I think maybe that ended up on a B-side or something; and if you ever listen to that version, then my voice is one of the thousands.

Here’s the really weird part though. Despite the fact that both nights were spectacularly good, one of my most abiding memories of those head-pounding and heart wrenching performances was the certainty of missing the last connection and being stranded on the London Tube’s semi-detached badlands. That’s how Nine While Nine by the Sisters of Mercy has woven itself into the mix of two hugely memorable Cult gigs.

Anyone who’s been there will know.

Ian Astbury image courtesy of Jon at

My Top 10 Live Bands – 9

New Model Army

Arguably the greatest of the crusty, dog-on-a-string bands, New Model Army have been rocking their own strain of anarchic nihilism for over three decades now. Often imitated but never bettered.

By some strange quirk of fate, my first encounter with this exceptionally loud, talented and good-looking threesome was Reading Festival in 1989, the day before the Mission’s epic and legendary performance.

NMA were riding high on the back of Thunder & Consolation, their best and most successful studio album when I rocked up a little late to the party. Standing there in that sweaty field, I was struck by the realisation that there were probably just as many people eager to hear New Model Army play as there were waiting for the Pogues to throw down, and the boys from Bradford could easily have headlined that year. No problem. They kicked arse.

New Model Army built a shelter for the refugees of generation punk, as well as their growing brood of hand knitted, skip-diving devotees long, long before grungy activism had atrophied into the squalid, bourgeois gap-year jollies we see today. Just like the Matrix’s Neo, we could all sense there was something wrong with the world, and New Model Army managed to wrap all those ill-defined anxieties around themselves. I still think that Drag it Down and A Liberal Education are two of the finest political songs ever written.

I caught up with NMA again at Brixton in 1991, where I was so very fortunate to catch Ed Alleyne-Johnson in the supporting slot, getting ready for the release of his Purple Electric Violin Concerto. I’ve never witnessed an audience literally dumbstruck by artistic beauty before or since, and I consider myself privileged to have been a part of something so very special. A truly magical experience.

Like so much in life, things are right and true only for a short time. The world never stands still, and although I could easily catch New Model Army again at some nearby venue, I know I can’t go back. It’s hard to justify singing the same tunes about the same things when there are so many new battles to fight. Besides, I don’t know how the worlds of NMA and Health & Safety can ever be properly reconciled.

Still, the bruises have long healed and I’ve got some great memories. Thank you, guys!

My Top 10 Live Bands – 10

The Mission

When viewed from the comfortable vantage point of middle age, I can now say with confidence that the past is indeed another country. Looking back, 1986 was a very different and many would say a better, more hopeful and freer world than the paranoid, obsessively introspective and neurotic landscape we tiptoe through today. There was no internet to spy on us, everyone’s overcoats were way cooler and we were still allowed to smoke indoors. Those simple freedoms we took for granted are viewed with a kind of incredulous horror by the risk assessed youth of today, and I often reflect on just how lucky I was to have come of age before the end of live music’s golden era. At that time there was still plenty big gig game to be hunted by a kid with a sense of adventure and a school leaver’s salary.

I recall a stifling perfume of Spiritual Sky patchouli, poppers, cider fumes and dry ice filling the air when first I saw Wayne and the guys take to the stage at Friars*, Aylesbury. 1986 was probably the year of peak gothic rock in the UK, and I found myself right in the middle of it one dark November night. Wayne looked like an off-duty glam rock star kidnapped from some alternate universe where Marc Bolan had lived on as he stood to deliver The Mission’s good word.

It was real, it was raw, it was most definitely live…and I was hooked. One of my most enduring memories of the night was of that trademark jingle jangle riding a thumping rock baseline with all the polished finesse of a professional surfer.

From that high point where I first found them, The Mission continued to grow until our next meeting in 1989. That year I was fortunate enough to witness their legendary headline performance at Reading Festival. The one with the windmills. Everyone always talks about the windmills.

Nearly three decades later and the band (or brand) is still going strong, although I for one won’t be going to see them anytime soon. Nothing stays the same, and like a beloved but fading friend, I want to remember them as a dying echo of all those lost venues and frozen stations from my Thunderbird-blurred and nicotine-stained yesterdays. Some things can never be re-created, and the centrally heated, LED illuminated, Uber app immediacy of our modern world has stripped the live gig of perhaps its most valuable and enduring aspects. The rituals, camaraderie, and yes dammit, downright recklessness of that smoke-smudged world are fondly remembered with good cause. I don’t envy the kids today.

Alas, there are no really good quality recordings of those near-forgotten glory gigs, but there is a last remnant from that Friars gig still haunting cyberspace, along with a glimpse of those famous windmills, or spider webs, or whatever the hell they really were. Nobody who was there at the time really cared. All they remember is just how awesome the whole damn thing was.

* In fact this was not actually a Friars gig, but big gigs in Aylesbury around that time are still referred to as “Friars” gigs, in the same way that vacuum cleaners are often called Hoovers regardless of their true manufacturer.

The Music of my Life 1990-1994

If the late 1980s can be identified as a period of cultural and musical fracturing, then the early 1990s is surely defined by a marked and probably permanent acceleration of that divergence. With the mainstream on corporate life support and the homogenized march of nu metal through the alternative scene, the nineties are seldom remembered as a cultural or musical high point by anyone who wasn’t actually young during that period.

Nonetheless, there were some glimmers of hope in the dark, and here are my favourite albums from the first half of that difficult decade.

1990 – Elizium by Fields of the Nephilim

At the risk of committing gothic rock heresy, I’ve often thought that Fields of the Nephilim were seriously overrated. However, they proved more than capable with this absolute beauty, and what I believe is by far their strongest release. For a start they seriously dialled back on Carl McCoy’s voice effects, resulting in very pleasant surprise for many listeners. McCoy’s much improved vocals are seamlessly blended with a much more creative use of guitar, bass and keyboards to produce a languid and often haunting audio experience.

Musically speaking, Elizium takes its time, perhaps reflecting a personal and musical maturity that was wanting in the promising but not-quite-there Nephilim album. Elizium is best played loud, especially during the slower, more sweeping sections of this often ignored and unjustly forgotten album.

1991 – Hey Stoopid by Alice Cooper

Confirmed alcoholic Vincent Furnier (aka Alice Cooper) finally stopped drinking in 1983, and that personal journey partly explains Cooper’s creative rebirth and undoubtedly contributed to the two best written, arranged and engineered albums he’s ever released. Once you’ve gotten past the admittedly questionable cover, Hey Stoopid is an unapologetic orgy of rock production gorgeousness. With a really, really big sound and plenty of Cooper’s old theatrical flair, this album is like a connoisseur’s wine cellar, where all the mediocre stuff has been served to guests and the quality stock is kept safely hidden away. Tracks like Might as well be on Mars and Love’s a Loaded Gun remain true to the time honoured Cooperesque ethos, while dishing out newer and hitherto untasted dollops of bitter anger and lasting regret.

In the final analysis, Hey Stoopid just sounds so freakin’ good that it can get away with just about anything.

1992 – 1992: The Love Album by Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine

Carter USM were the back row dwelling, bogey flicking, teacher taunting bad boys of an increasingly whiney, sanctimoniously self-referential and horribly bourgeois indie scene that was bubbling up during that decade. With a great big ballsy sound and playfully insightful lyrics, The Love Album is a long overdue swipe at the establishment from the parts of Britain that were scorned and left behind during the previous decade.

Even the album’s cover is eerily prescient of the cultural and economic divide which has now been laid bare within British society, despite an increasingly discredited media class’s efforts to pretend it had never existed before 2016.

With several Sinatra gags and parodies thrown in for fun, the chart topping Love Album is possibly the biggest poke in the establishment’s eye since Never Mind the Bollocks went and gobbed on the mayor’s car back in ’77.

In fact, the unstoppable Carter stopped after only a decade, and many of us still lament the departure of those very gifted and unashamedly rowdy street poets.

1993 – Songs of Faith and Devotion by Depeche Mode

Following on from the massive success of Violator, Songs of Faith & Devotion was produced by a band who were at the peak of their powers and charting an exciting new creative direction. Gone are the last vestiges of the eighties pop band, shoved aside by something with a much harder edge and a far more subversive sound.

Accompanied by a massive tour, Songs of Faith and Devotion is arguably the first album by the “new” Depeche Mode of the nineties and beyond. Not afraid to experiment and seemingly less interested in the fickle tastes of pop fans, it’s almost as though these guys had decided to keep the fans they themselves had grown up and matured with.

This is not an album that fits easily into any category, and although the newer influences of the growing grunge movement can clearly be heard, SOFAD stubbornly refuses to be tied down creatively. Some have decried this as a creative identity crisis, while I believe Depeche Mode were blazing a trail for others to follow with this album.

1994 – Brave by Marillion

Brave is Marillion’s third studio album fronted by the hugely talented Steve Hogarth, marking yet another course adjustment on their seemingly endless musical voyage. Much smaller of stature than Fish, Hogarth nonetheless more than manages to fill the big man’s shoes as Marillion return to the prog rock roots that were, and remain the cornerstone of their continued success.

Based on a report of a young amnesiac girl, Brave charts her fictional, troubled and invisible life within an insular society that found her easier to ignore than to protect. Another prescient piece of work given the seemingly endless procession of disturbing cases of conscious institutional neglect we’ve uncovered in recent years.

Showcasing all of their musical flexibility and creativity, Brave also marks Marillion’s departure from an increasingly insular mainstream music scene as they set out to build a much more independent operation. Their years of hard work and forward thinking have been amply rewarded with a corporate-proof fan base and enviable creative freedom.

The nineties can be thought of as the first skirmishes of the often cited “culture war” which is raging across most of the West. During the decade of Brit Pop and the Spice Girls, it was difficult to shake the feeling that doubters and thinkers were being deliberately driven out of mainstream culture, to be replaced by safely sanitised short skirt rebellions. The unpalatable truth is that Girl Power was merely the creation of middle aged men in tall buildings, who were smart enough to make a ton of money by selling an insurrection deliberately designed to go nowhere.

However, the culturally cleansed did not simply disappear. They retreated to the internet and patiently waited for their time to strike.

The Music of my Life 1985-1989

If the music scene of the mid to late eighties could be summed up in a single word it would be “fragmentation.” With new genres and sub-cultures spurning mainstream success in search of something authentic, the stranglehold of the big labels began to loosen on parts of the public consciousness. As the charts stagnated into sugary electro mush, the musically minded struck out on their own in ever increasing numbers. What they found was some of the best and perhaps some of the most unjustly sidelined music ever produced. Here are my favourites from this period.

1985 – Hounds of Love by Kate Bush

Kate Bush’s fifth studio album is arguably her most polished and accomplished offering, balancing a step change in production quality with retaining much of the innate quirkiness which has made her such a cult figure over the years.

She was 27 years old when this album was released and she’s never sounded better, having lost a lot of the adolescent squeak which had been a detriment to some of her earlier work. Here she is at the peak of her vocal powers, which are at last unleashed upon a hitherto unsuspecting world through tracks like And Dream of Sheep, and the hugely underrated Hello Earth. Hounds of Love finally reveals the darkness hiding behind Bush’s idiosyncratic exterior, and this oblique and melancholy style accounts in large part for Hounds of Love’s enduring appeal.

Not exactly an album for family celebrations, this is an album that captures a timeless and out of focus longing that sleeps somewhere inside us all.

1986 – Medusa by Clan of Xymox

If this isn’t the greatest gothic album ever released, it’s surely got to be in the top three! A bona fide alternative classic, hailing from a bygone era before subculture identities were available off the peg. Like good alternative clothing stores of the time, the joy of going underground was the discovery of a forbidden world, effortlessly surpassing the mainstream in its cold, creative beauty.

Like any true alternative album, Medusa makes no compromises and does not seek peer approval. That creative integrity has been vindicated by the birth of an age-defying and beautifully balanced album. Indeed, classic tracks like Back Door and Louise can still sometimes be heard in the more discerning underground clubs as new generations continue to defy the spoon-feeding corporate music machine.

Pass me a Gauloises immediately!

1987 – Within the Realm of a Dying Sun by Dead Can Dance

Light the candles, singe an incense stick and pop the cork on that good bottle of red because Dead Can Dance are here! No other band could possibly support such galactic levels of pretentiousness without imploding under the weight of their own gravitas, but then no other band revolves around the ludicrously talented fulcrum of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard. Perry’s wonderful, chocolaty smooth voice conjures the shadow of Sinatra, while Lisa Gerrard is easily the most famous vocalist you’ve never heard of. Her numerous movie credits are a testament to her most unusual talent.

Almost defying musical description, Dead can Dance are beloved by world music aficionados and goth shufflers alike for their sweeping, epic and ludicrously large symphonic sound. No other band could arrange tracks entitled Dawn of the Iconoclast and Summoning of the Muse on an album and expect to be taken seriously, but that’s just another day at the office for Dead can Dance.

Anyone for chess?

1988 – Operation Mindcrime by Queensryche

When Queensryche released their epic third studio album in May 1988, it soon became apparent that they’d created a serious problem for themselves. Having set the bar so ridiculously high with such a stupendous musical assault on the senses, Operation Mindcrime seems destined to hound them like a ghost for the rest of their careers. Indeed, although they’ve achieved commercial success since then, nothing has come close to the conceptual brilliance, stunning execution and sheer overpowering energy of this legendary album.

It was one hell of a gamble to release a concept album in the late eighties, but Queensryche pulled off a masterstroke with this dark tale of an idealistic yet troubled young man, exploited by political forces he naively thinks he understands. Only when he’s used up and discarded does he learn the bitter truth that he was always an expendable foot soldier and never the respected field commander. A cautionary tale which has attained a new and urgent relevance in recent years.

The stunning rock arrangements and relentless energy of Mindcrime are lifted higher still by Geoff Tate’s crystal pure, glass shattering vocals. Tate surely has a shot at the title of greatest rock singer ever, and his relative obscurity shouldn’t disqualify him for consideration.

Set headphones to stun, and learn something useful they’ll never teach you at school.

1989 – Sonic Temple by The Cult

What better way to round off a dazzling musical decade than with a rip roaring, scotch slugging, straight shooting hard rock extravaganza from one of the art’s legendary lineups. Sonic Temple isn’t grand, or highbrow, and it’s certainly not a concept album. It doesn’t need any of those whistles and bells as it blasts right into the listener’s life. It is what it is, an unapologetic orgy of sheer, unadulterated rock n roll brilliance!

Billy Duffy leads this guitar charged assault on the senses, ably abetted by Ian Astbury on vocals, one of the few men cool enough to wear flares in the eighties and get away with it. By the time they’re done, it’s obvious the guys have assembled The Cult’s tightest and most energetic album, and that’s saying something. Reeking of bourbon and Marlboro smoke, Sonic Temple bursts into the atmosphere with joyous, wanton abandon, defying even the squarest of critics not to tap their feet as a seemingly endless list of hard rock anthems escapes into the atmosphere.

More than anything, this is an album that was born when everything was just going right. You can hear the guys were having a blast laying down these tracks, and that enthusiasm was captured and bottled for us all to share.

As the eighties faded and the nineties dawned, many music fans felt an ill-defined uneasiness. Corporate pop was all but dead and the Nu Metal assault was just getting under way. What would this new and as yet unknown decade have in store for the music scene?

That’s for the next post in this series.

The Music of my Life 1980-1984

The eighties was a decade defined by contradictions. The neon dawn of a beckoning consumer age shone brightly against a dusty background of industrial decay. Newfound freedoms and lifestyles rubbed shoulders awkwardly with centuries-old social norms, often chafing against them. The gender benders shocked on Top of the Pops, while the bowler hatted city men were overrun by the hungry and street smart barrow boys who’d finally broken into the City’s sacred inner sanctum.
It was a time of both economic expansion and industrial contraction, which somehow managed to co-exist within the space of a single frantic decade.
With a little less wealth but a lot more personal freedom, it was a great time to be growing up, and I would never trade it for today’s paranoid, smoke free and calorie counting childhood.

1980 – Vienna by Ultravox

It seems to be an unwritten rule of the music world that one may like either the John Foxx or the Midge Ure incarnations of this band, but never both. That’s a rather short sighted outlook in my opinion, as this technically advanced offering from Midge and the boys is one of the finest examples of the post punk synth wave. While certainly more commercial than their first three albums, Vienna nonetheless displays a high degree of creative integrity. Indeed, I would argue that New Europeans is the single greatest new wave track ever. Never a band to chase the teen romance demographic, this album’s title track is emblematic of a bygone age when bold, innovative and unconventional music could still attain chart success.

1981 – Rage in Eden by Ultravox

That’s right, two in a row for this highly creative musical quartet, and in fact my single favourite album of all time. Too often overlooked by nostalgia channels and list shows, Rage in Eden is a triumph of dark-tinged electro pop that clearly doesn’t give a damn whether the “inkies” deem it worthy or not. Indeed, so cleverly constructed are the tracks and running order of this album that its lengthening shadows creep imperceptibly across the listener’s consciousness, while masquerading as a high quality synth-pop creation. With a brooding, concrete production style and lashings of dark, quasi monastic backing vocals, Rage in Eden is a neglected jewel of the eighties synth movement. Slide the CD into the player, sit back and experience the hidden depths and darkest corners of this most unlikely of masterpieces.
Indeed, time has vindicated this band’s creative approach as Ultravox are still touring in their own right, as opposed to being rolled up into some last hurrah of a fading revivalist roadshow. In hindsight, whilst their commercial triumph was much smaller than the Spandaus and the Durans of the day it has endured far, far longer. Perhaps there’s a lesson for us all in this story.

1982 – A Broken Frame by Depeche Mode

If Ultravox were dark synth with a poppy undertone, then Depeche Mode were their mirror image of poppy synth with a dark undertone. The early eighties marked a distinct societal as well as musical shift, where the groans of that wounded industrial world were processed, digitised and remade in the imagined likeness of the coming computer age. Many bands attempted to balance these opposing cultural currents, more often than not falling off the beam and into day-glo derision or respected obscurity. Somehow Depeche Mode managed to harness these two opposing forces to create something that is both easily accessible yet just a little off key. The video for the popular single See You is a brilliant example of that gravity-defying juggling act. Anyone old enough to remember those dark, frosty and atmospheric BR stations will immediately smell dust, diesel fumes and cigarette smoke in those wonderful opening frames. An album made by young men who were themselves shaped by the greater forces at work during those important years.

1983 – The Golden Section by John Foxx

The third of John Foxx’s post Ultravox projects is less well known than Metamatic or The Garden, and that’s a great shame. The master of the discordant dream and the fleeting shadow finds his strongest abstractionist voice in this glowing, warm and yet distantly chilling production. Perhaps finally trapping the phantom he’d been chasing for over a decade, The Golden Section is a triumph of musical arrangement that takes the listener on a journey to a quiet, melancholy place. This collection of beautifully crafted musical tracks brilliantly succeeds in triggering introspection and a longing for something once known but now forgotten, distilling ideas of shuttered shops and overgrown ruins into a vague longing for past freedoms. The greatest trick this album plays is that it achieves its ends by deception and subterfuge, forswearing any pretentious teen dirge in favour of a far more mature and nuanced musical expression. This album demonstrates an advanced and intuitive understanding of both music and the human condition, where discord somehow gives birth to beauty. An unrivalled triumph of the era.

1984 – Fugazi by Marillion

The second album by the last of the prog rock children is a veritable feast of musicianship and poetic prowess. Fish’s peerless lyrical agility finds a new confidence in this virtuoso display of song-writing and studio production. Steve Rothery shines as the most underrated guitarist of his generation, ably matched by Mark Kelly’s dazzling keyboard skills. Indeed, Steve’s soaring, weeping solo on Jigsaw is my personal favourite.
With major chart success still elusive, Fugazi makes little attempt to chase the then lucrative singles market, as the butchery of Assassing into a short seven inches makes all too plain. Who would buy a single like that?
It’s also worth noting that this is an album that arrived at exactly the right time for music fans like me, providing a vital escape route for those of us who’d spotted the scouts for the Stock, Aitken & Waterman invasion. It’s both an end and a new beginning as the musical mainstream begins its steady and seemingly irreversible decline.

Yes, the eighties are remembered with great fondness, but they also mark an irreparable fracturing of the music scene. By mid-decade the music charts had become increasingly homogenised and predictable, so there was only one thing for it. To misquote a very famous British singer, it’s time to go underground.

The Music of my Life 1975-1979

If the seventies are anything to go by, then the old adage of tough times producing great art certainly holds true. Like the social and political realm around it, the music world was in a state of decay and rebirth all at the same time during this period. The end result is some of the best and most imaginative work ever to grace a recording studio.
It was tough making the choices, but here are my five favourites from the latter half of that landmark musical decade.

1975 – Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd

If I could only take one Pink Floyd album to my desert island it would be this one. The word “masterpiece” is bandied about far too often in the age of the internet, but it is surely the most succinct description of this seminal work by the grand masters of prog rock. Concept, musicianship and production all combine to produce a listening experience which is as fresh and relevant four decades on as it was on the day of release. Boasting the title track, Welcome to the Machine and Shine on you Crazy Diamond to name just three all-time greats, Wish You Were Here is almost too good to be true. The greatest album of all time? I’m not certain of that, but it’s surely got to be in the running.If you don’t yet own this dazzling offering from a musical golden age then you should renounce mp3, obtain a high quality copy and prepare for a horizon-widening audio experience.

1976 – Boston by Boston

The debut album from the ridiculously talented Tom Scholz and the guys from Massachusetts is a true masterclass in the art of music production. Seemingly resistant to the passage of time, More Than a Feeling still a firm radio favourite more than forty years after it first hit the airwaves. Never a band to just release music for the sake of it, Boston have earned their reputation as the supreme exponents of hard yet also melodic rock.Even though many of their tracks reflect the same problems that both the punks and suburbia were grappling with at the time, Boston always managed to shoehorn them into a remarkably upbeat rock parcel. With a unique blend of beautifully clipped guitar work and multi-channel vocal harmonies, it’s always summer when Boston’s in the background. Just immerse yourself in the first two tracks on this album and you’ll soon realise you’re in the presence of musical greatness.

1977 – No More Heroes by The Stranglers

It’s 1977, and so that means the punk explosion has laid waste to the cultural landscape. The explosive detonation of the Sex Pistols often eclipses some of the equally worthy and arguably more insightful creations of that long overdue, snarling counter-culture.
With a wreath adorning the cover and an increasingly fraught economic story dominating the world outside, No More Heroes intuitively encapsulates the death of the post war industrial consensus. Working hard and doing the right thing is no longer a recipe for success, and is becoming increasingly derided as a fool’s errand and a cynical method of social control.
The gleaming high-rise renewal has all too quickly become a grey, dripping, concrete dystopia; turning against the very masses who were promised that bright new tomorrow so long as they sacrificed the sweat to build it. This album is a brilliantly unfiltered scream from a generation instinctively sensing that everything is rotten, but not really knowing what to do after it’s all been torn down.

1978 – Systems of Romance by Ultravox

If there was a hall of fame for the most underrated yet influential albums of all time, then this would surely be hung in the foyer for all to see. Ultravox’s third and last album with the legendary John Foxx is a dusty and often overlooked glory of the post-punk synth movement. While The Stranglers echo through the guitar riffs of The Quiet Men and When You Walk Through Me, something altogether new and wonderful is stirring within the half remembered dreams of Dislocation and the analogue airwave chatter of Slow Motion. The haunting final track, Just for a Moment is my single favourite song of all time.
Indeed, the legendary Gary Numan has paid homage to this musical masterpiece as both an influence and an inspiration in more than one interview over the years.

1979 – The Wall by Pink Floyd

It feels eminently fitting that the seventies should bow out with one of the giants of that decade. The Wall is more than just a great album, it’s a brilliant and timely examination of power, control and cyclical interdependency. Nearly four decades of history have added yet further layers of contradiction and complexity as Roger Waters et al have themselves been absorbed into the Establishment they once railed against. Indeed, it has been argued that the process was well under way by the time The Wall first appeared. With imagery by Fleet Street fixture Gerald Scarfe and a bunch of boys from Cambridge singing about not needing no education, some charges of intellectual dishonesty have been levelled at Floyd for this conceptual creation.However, it could also be argued that the mere existence of such discussion vindicates The Wall’s creation, by bringing the ever-changing and malleable nature of power dynamics into sharp, somewhat dated, and yet somehow timeless focus.

Fading out with the Winter of Discontent and the election of Britain’s first female Prime Minister, the seventies was a decade of upheaval and contradiction. Above all, it was a decade troubled by an overbearing yet unfocused sense that something was deeply and fundamentally wrong with society. Somehow the orderly, expert-driven concrete dream had gone terribly, awfully awry. This underlying sense of unease helped to usher in an unprecedented era of musical invention and creativity, and this rich cultural legacy is still being discovered, enjoyed and re-visited by each new generation of musicians and listeners alike.

The Music of my life 1970-1974

Hello everyone, and welcome to the first in a series of blog posts listing my favourite album for each year of my life (so far).

This initial entry is perhaps the most tricky as it’s clearly retrospective. Nonetheless, a rule of this series is that I own and appreciate each of the albums listed.

1970 – Death Walks Behind You by Atomic Rooster

This album was born in the same year as yours truly. Like much music of that time, it anticipates the still-developing prog rock era while also echoing the dying chords of the bold and experimental psychedelic movement. Tracks like Seven Lonely Streets and Vug could easily be mistaken for early Pink Floyd, while the unsettling artwork was perhaps a portent of the turbulent decade to come. Like all great music, it doesn’t beg to be liked, and this uncompromising stance is vindicated with a wonderful classic rock experience.

1971 – Hunky Dory by David Bowie

Never one to follow convention, while popular music was pushing the boundaries of what an album could be, Bowie was already anticipating the post-punk and new romantic movements which weren’t as yet a glint in the record company’s eye. With a track listing boasting the incomparable Life on Mars? and the almost sixties sounding Oh you Pretty Things, Hunky Dory is a hint at the creative flexibility and self re-invention which were the enduring hallmarks of Bowie’s long career. It still lifts and gladdens my heart to hear this album more than four decades after its first release.

1972 – Close to the Edge by Yes

In a similar vein to Atomic Rooster, Yes still retained an echo of sixties psychedelia in their fifth studio album, while Jon Anderson’s folk minstrel voice instantly evokes the smell of wood smoke and ancient fireside tales. Close to the Edge is a true prog rock production, with the title track weighing in at over eighteen minutes. Some of the solos and instrumentals might be regarded as self indulgent, but that’s kind of missing the point. This was a time when rock musicians really began to spread their wings and demonstrate they were every bit as creative and talented as their classical cousins. Yes were one of the bands leading that charge, and Close to the Edge is a glorious background for any gathering of good friends, good food and fine wine.

1973 – The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd

So much has already been written about this iconic album that there’s really very little to add that hasn’t already been said. Boasting by far the most famous artwork ever to grace a record sleeve, Dark Side of the Moon is perhaps the single most important creation of an age when the ascendant album was king. Although not my personal Floyd favourite, it’s nevertheless an essential component in music enthusiast’s library. It truly deserves its place in my all time rundown, and I’m sure it would feature in hundreds of thousands of similar lists.

1974 – Autobahn by Kraftwerk

Yet another album from the 1970s which is still discussed, debated and listened to today. The 22 minute title track continues to divide opinion, with some commentators referring to it as a “soundscape” as opposed to a music track per se. Either way, this groundbreaking (largely) electronic offering appeared at exactly the right time to flourish as the album continued to supplant the single as the serious music fan’s preferred medium. Perhaps less user friendly than Pink Floyd or Yes, Kraftwerk began their rise first to music stardom and then to cultural artefact with this brilliant production. Put it on the turntable, spark up a French cigarette and follow that concrete road to a bright and orderly future of mass transportation and increasing automation.

All in all, the years 1970-1975 contain a disproportionate number of albums and artists that are still played, debated and celebrated to this day. This period was a golden age for musical and production creativity which has never been matched. It represents a quantum leap forward in the way popular music was created, consumed and understood at a cultural level.

The worst part about this period was the fact that I wasn’t old enough to experience it first hand. My best memory of this time was being taken to the barbers, the place where I first encountered those exotic musical creatures with long, lustrous curls, trimmed beards and lovingly groomed moustaches. Mysterious beings from a world I could not yet fully understand or appreciate. Looking back, I’ve come to realise that despite its obvious problems, in many ways those years were more culturally liberal and socially honest than our current state sponsored and ruthlessly policed pluralism.

Next time I’ll look at the years 1975-1979, and my dawning realisation of a cultural and political world outside of myself.