Tracey Thorn

With autumn descending and this month marking both her 50th birthday and the 30th anniversary of her debut album ‘A Distant Shore’, here is a long overdue celebration of the genius of Tracey Thorn.

Although best known for the Todd Terry remix of her band Everything But The Girl’s ‘Missing’ and for providing the vocals for Massive Attack’s ‘Protection’ from their second album of the same name, if you scratch the surface there is a lot more than the faceless voice of a couple of dance hits.

Genre hopping between folk, jazz and house Thorn has retained the knack for writing perfectly crafted pop songs, with beautifully sophisticated arrangements and a dreamy, melancholic delivery.

Despite her debut solo album now being seen as something of a lost classic, Thorn’s best work has often been in her numerous collaborations with other musicians and groups such as Working Week, The Style Council and the aforementioned Massive Attack.

The longest lasting and arguably the most fruitful of these musical relationships has been with fellow University of Hull graduate Ben Watt as Everything But The Girl and their debut album ‘Eden’ remains a blueprint for sophisti-pop, an album which inspired much contemporary imitation but has never been matched.

30 years on from her debut Thorn still creates beautiful music cut from the same cloth, here is a look at a few classic Tracey Thorn tracks:

Everything But The Girl – Each and Every One

Tracey Thorn – Plain Sailing

The Style Council – The Paris Match

Everything But The Girl – Night and Day (Cole Porter)

Tracey Thorn – Simply Couldn’t Care

By Callum West

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Hats Entertainment

The hat has long been common place in music; certain styles have been synonymous with stars, such as Sinatra’s trademark Trilby, whilst different musical tribes have identified themselves through their choice of headwear like two tone fans and pork pie hats.

However, there is also a dark side, a scene awash with sartorial sins. Whether it be Dappy and his Peruvian winter hat, Slash and his top hat or The Edge and his silly little woollen hat, there are many in pop whose unfathomable cuntishness is somehow enhanced by what they wear upon their head.

Those who you gaze at in awe, finding it inconceivable that they can believe they look smart, wondering if they live in a world without mirrors.

Luckily, at the opposite end of the spectrum there are those whose look is enhanced by their headgear, those who pull of their hats with a dash of panache or a certain swagger or those who can pull it off because they’re a pop star and they can do what the fuck they like.

This is a look at ten of the best from the latter, music stars those who avoid the pitfalls that befall so many and manage to look the bollocks in their hat of choice.

Jimmy Cliff

LL Cool J

Pete Doherty

Slick Rick

Frank Sinatra

Marvin Gaye

Kevin Rowland

Paul Simonon

Bob Dylan

 

Reni

By Callum West

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Deadly 60

It may be seen as something of ‘guilty pleasure’ given the target audience are probably about half my age, but The Deadly 60 is without a doubt one of the best things on the television at the moment.

The programme’s premise is pretty self-explanatory, host Steve Backshall –who, a quick search of google tells me, is as beloved by lonely house wives as 50 Shades of Grey – scours all four corners of the earth in search of the sixty most deadly animals on the planet, each week adding one or two to the burgeoning collection of predators that make up ‘The Deadly 60’.

When a friend introduced the programme to me, I was sceptical. As someone for whom an away day up north is as intrepid as it gets, I generally regard the outdoorsman with a mixture of contempt and suspicion, an untrustworthy and potentially unhinged lunatic. That alpha male, judging one’s merit as a man based on the ability to pitch a tent, start a fire, and wear Berghaus has never been a bit of me and as such I always secretly hoped Steve Irwin would be eaten by a crocodile or Bear Grylls would choke to death on his own piss.

Equally I’d always found adults engaging in children’s pop culture a bit weird. Whether it be sneering at grown men and women who read Harry Potter on the tube, or not laughing along with those who enjoy Rastamouse ironically, I’d long considered myself above it.

However, with Backshall there is none of this faux macho nonsense of my first concern and thus when he’s swimming with a hippopotamus, there’s no unspoken desire to see the animal rip through him with its giant teeth, when the bullet ant crawls across his hand you’re not praying for it to sting.  No, at the heart of Backshall’s presenting isn’t a desire to show how hard or mental he is, but a heartfelt desire to impart a genuine understanding of the animals of his ‘Deadly 60’ to the children (students, unemployed and frustrated mums) watching.

Furthermore, he has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of zoology which takes it above and beyond just a children’s TV programme and more like Attenborough-lite for people who don’t want to sit through an hour of Planet Earth, and for that reason it is truly compelling viewing.

By Callum West

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Smoking On Screen

Smoking is cool. Not universally so, there’s nothing cool about chain smoking a ten deck of Mayfair outside of a Wetherspoon’s in the rain, or part-timers shamelessly poncing from strangers when three sheets to the wind (guilty). Equally, it is hard to look like a chap whilst puffing on a wonky roll up.

However, on screen – both the silver and the small – there are numerous examples of stars that exude effortless style with a Marlboro in their mouth or a B&H in hand. From Clint Eastwood as ‘The Man With No Name’ in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, to The Wire’s Omar Little skulking in the shadows sucking on a Newport, film and television history is littered with characters with smoking at the very essence of their ‘cool’. Whether cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos or even pipes, some smokers just have it.

Furthermore there is the paraphernalia. Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and her cigarette holder, the innumerable Bonds with their silver cigarette cases and velvet smoking jackets, the flickering Zippos of the film noir heroes on the 30s and 40s.

Obviously there is nothing attractive about cancer, heart disease or a laryngectomy but the moral issues surrounding smoking on camera is a debate for another time. Here is a look at some of the screens most suave smokers. Anyone got a spare fag?

By Callum West

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Pop Music: No More Heroes Anymore

The Pop Star: whether it be the otherworldly air of Bowie, the sneering showmanship of Rotten, the fragility of Morrissey or the cocksure arrogance of Gallagher (Liam), whether they’re a frontman or guitar hero ,they are the heartbeat of what makes music interesting and exciting.

Making headlines, making teenage girls (and boys) faint or outraging parents (who just don’t understand) they are centre stage, centre of attention and we’re crying out for one.

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Since Doherty was packed in by Kate Moss and packed up his belongings and set sail on the good ship Albion towards Paris the country has been bereft, the tabloids devoid of an ‘enfant terrible’, the fans without an icon. British pop has been left in the clutches of Cowell’s cronies and graduates of the Brit School production line. Whilst, you wouldn’t let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone, you probably don’t know what a Rizzle Kick is.

Across the pond it’s much the same malaise, Lady Gaga is a Madonna pastiche, whilst, Rihanna’s feigned interest in S&M is as devoid of outrage as it is sexuality.

It’s why the NME every few months turns to the aforementioned Rotten, Gallagher or Morrissey for an interview, a soundbite, every couple of months. Why the demand for tickets amongst people who weren’t old enough to see returning stars of the past – like The Stone Roses – the first time round is so high.

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Pop music is a by product of the era it’s from and reflects its age and its culture. In the 1960s the success of Motown came to represent the Civil Rights struggle, whilst it’s no coincidence that Ziggy Stardust was conceived shortly after Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon. Equally, the raw pent up urban frustration of punk and the excess and flamboyance of the New Romantics represented the aspects of the late 1970s and early 1980s in turn.

So it is that some commentators suggest that in this internet age, this time of widespread availability of music instantly, the accessibility of recording artists on social networking that has destroyed it. You can’t put pop stars on the same pedestal when they’re tweeting what they had for lunch, the mystic is missing.Yet bands such as The Libertines successfully treaded the line between accessible and reverence. Inviting you round to their flat one minute, shagging super models the next.

Perhaps it’s instead a wider reflection on the 21st century homogenisation of our culture, where all our high streets looking the same, our ‘pop stars’ do too. As our towns and cities lose their individualism so do those in the charts. Art imitating life as it has done throughout history.

No matter what has inspired this void, it begs the question posed by The Stranglers: whatever happened to all the heroes?

By Callum West

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60 Years of the NME

Sixty years ago this month the ‘The Musical Express and Accordion Weekly’ was relaunched as the New Musical Express and with that a British institution was launched.

Sixty years and innumerable makeovers later the magazine is still going strong. Whilst, some may argue the standard of journalism is not what it was in ‘their day’, despite the rise of the internet, blogging and the collapse of its rivals like Melody Maker and Sounds it remains a weekly oracle of information on new bands, interviews, gigs listings and the like.

In its time the magazine has detailed most musical phenomenon from the swinging sixties, through the rise of punk, the Britpop wars to the emergence of the likes of The Strokes and The Libertines in the new millennium and has inspired many a young man to pick up a guitar, or start a band (indeed a young Stephen Morrissey regularly wrote letters to the magazine before he formed the Smiths, whilst Suede recruited Bernard Butler through an advert in the magazine).

Equally many can attribute the discovery of their favourite band to the magazine -seeing Pete Doherty in the 1982 England kit on the front cover in 2002 was one of the reasons I fell in love with The Libertines. Over the years there have been innumerable iconic covers such as that, and countless infamous interviews, here’s a look at a few of the former.

By Callum West

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Iconic Album Covers

Although a future where recorded music no longer exists in any physical form is looking increasingly likely, up until now the way and album has looked has sometimes said as much about a band as the music contained within it.

Indeed the artwork of the likes of Abbey Road, Sticky Fingers and Dark Side of The Moon has taken on an iconic status equal to the albums themselves. Equally it is hard to find a review of the Velvet & Underground that doesn’t mention the Andy Warhol Banana or find some discussing London Calling without mentioning Pennie Smith’s photo of Paul Simonon smashing his bass guitar and the Elvis aping graphics.

A good cover can attract you to an album you didn’t know existed, or turn you on to an artist or photographer you’d never heard of. Some are a mission statement, a manifesto for the record, neatly encapsulate the spirit of the album, others are deliberately obtuse, revealing little and  some are just fucking cool. The best seem like an invitation into something exciting.

These album covers are as much an example of modern art as anything in the Tate and as good a barometer of the politics, fashion, style and taste of an era as anything else.

However, a generation of children are growing up who will be telling people what the first song they downloaded was rather than the first record they bought and whilst they may tell us it’s a technological advancement and Steve Jobs was a visionary the world will still be worse off for it.

From old favorites to modern classics, to commiserate, here’s a look at a few of my favourite album covers to grace record shops, t shirts and bedroom walls across the globe.

By Callum West

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