Thursday, 16 May 2013

My Top Ten: Bazza

Barry Cross runs his own design company.
He's a very talented designer.
Hot Cross Designs.
Have a look here...

Bazza designed the covers for my two solo albums 'Hopeland' and 'Keepers'.
We first met after he sent me a fantastic fanzine 'Tune In' that he'd designed for Miracle Mile.
His first ever job (unpaid) for us was the diary insert for 'Glow'.
'In Cassidy's Care' is his first cover for Miracle Mile.
I think that he's maybe even more excited than Marcus and I...
Marcus and I played at Bazza's 50th birthday party.
I'll share some candid shots betwixt his choices.
Worth looking at to recognize the shock on Marcus's face.
'Don't look up, don't look up! Just keep playing...'
He's still in recovery...
You see... Bazza surprised us on the night by playing drums.
He'd had 'lessons'.
As I said, he's a very talented designer...

Here's Bazza:

The criteria for my Top Ten was: 
a) did I play this album to the point of obsession?
b) do I continually return to them and feel as passionate now as I did on first listen?
c) were I stranded on a desert island could I play this one album on repeat?

My Top Ten isn't cool, but then neither was my Ford Escort. 
They just got me from A to B. 
They are numbered 1 to 10 but the positions change on an hourly basis, and like all great 'Smash Hits' charts, there are some Bubbling Under albums that also deserve a mention:

Bubbling Under:
'A Walk Across The Rooftops' The Blue Nile
'Technique' New Order
'Sulk' Associates
'Alaska' Miracle Mile
'Closer' Joy Division

11. (woops!)  Under Cold Blue Stars - Josh Rouse (2002)
"and the old van is tired and slow, wouldn't go"

I first heard a Josh Rouse song - 'Miracle', when it featured on a free cover mounted CD on Select magazine. That led me to this album and the discovery of an artist who has been a consistent favourite ever since. '1972' is probably a more immediate album and would quite possibly be in my Top Ten on another day, but 'Under Cold Blue Stars' has greater depth and a more varied palette of influences. There is a unique vulnerability in his voice that I find appealing. This album follows the loose concept of a couple living in the 1950s and their everyday trials and tribulations, it paints these images perfectly. No one does melancholy better than Rouse - 'Summer Kitchen Ballad' being a great example, but it's the combination of this and the positive vibes created by songs like 'Miracle' and 'Feeling No Pain' that make this album so rewarding. He's great live too, and after some dodgy albums influenced by his adoptive homeland of Spain he's back on form with a new album 'The Happiness Waltz'.

10. Spirit of Eden - Talk Talk (1988)
"Take my freedom"

I was a big fan of Talk Talk's 'The Colour of Spring', and following its success the band were rewarded with an open budget by EMI to record this follow up. It's difficult to categorise this record but the experimental nature is awe inspiring and quite spiritual. The engineer on the album described it as being "recorded by chance, accident and hours of trying every possible overdub idea." It's hard to believe this album will be 25 years old this year - it sounds remarkably contemporary. A classic.

9. Paradise Circus - The Lilac Time (1989)
"There will be times of joy and sorrow, don't put off life until tomorrow, the spark of human kindness catches, a little flame among the ashes, truth will only come in snatches"

I'm surprised The Lilac Time hasn't had a mention in these pages. Maybe the ghost of 'Kiss Me' wears heavy, but for me 'Paradise Circus' is a perfect mix of great pop tunes with a folk sensibility suggested by snatches of banjo, harmonica and pedal steel. It also boasts some beautifully understated horns and strings. Maybe Stephen Duffy was ahead of his time as this is a sound many of today's bands are having success with! 

8. Fresh New Life - Phil Campbell (1997)
"I took some thoughts, some crazy ones, and let them become the truth"

I heard Phil Campbell on a 'Listening Post' - the place to find me on a Saturday afternoon when record shops were still on the High Street, and I was immediately blown away by his voice - rough, soulful, heartbreaking. There's a great inventiveness to the production on this album in a 'White Ladder' kind of way, and the songwriting is of the highest standard (I remember hearing Cliff Richard cover one of his songs on Songs of Praise, but don't let that put you off). There is a track on the album called 'Evangaline' - about the breakdown of a relationship, that can bring a tear to my eye. I'm pretty sure this album is currently unavailable, which is a travesty. Phil Campbell has done the rounds - major labels, independent releases, bands (White Buffalo, The Temperence Movement), but I don't think he has equalled the brilliance of this debut album. Some amazing talents very often fall under the radar, and I add Phil Campbell to a list that includes Lewis Taylor and Trevor Jones - classic songwriters still waiting to be appreciated by a wider audience.

7. Come On Feel The Illinois - Sufjan Stevens (2005)
"In the tower above the earth, there is a view that reaches far, where we see the universe, I see the fire, I see the end"

I'm always excited by new Sufjan Stevens albums. Actually, I'm quite excited each time I listen of this one, as his music is so multi layered there are new things to be discovered with every play. This is my current Sufjan favourite and part of his fifty states (a promotional joke!) project, although 'Avalanche' (amazingly an album of 'Illinois' outtakes) and 'Age of Adz' rate equally highly. I saw him live a couple of years ago and he puts on an amazing show. You've got to admire someone who has released 100 christmas songs!

6. Forever So - Husky (2012)
"We'll leave our things behind for friends and family, we'll roam like gypsies along shores of silent seas, there'll be no reason to be frightened or sad, there'll be no wishing for things we never had"

I'm quite surprised that an album released as recently as last year makes my Top Ten, but I can't stop playing this album. In a similar vein to the Midlake album 'The Trials of Van Occupanther, Husky evoke images of another world, a world that we'd like to be a part of, or a world that maybe we once were! From the sweet opening harmonies of 'Tidal Wave' this is a great listen, and of all the albums in my ten this is the one I would recommend everyone add to the 'Wish List'.

5. The Unforgettable Fire - U2 (1984)
"Oh don't sorrow, no don't weep, for tonight, at last, I am coming home"

I realise it isn't cool to like U2 anymore, but I can't dismiss the listening pleasure I received from their first four albums. I remember my mate 'Diddy' May playing me '11 O'Clock Tick Tock' - the major label debut single from U2, for the first time in 1980, and me being quite indifferent to that first listen. Although I think that was more to do to with Diddy having had the day off, and 'discovering' it before me, rather than the music that filled my ears. I saw U2 many times in the days of their first 4 albums - before they became the biggest band on the planet, and I enjoyed some particularly amazing nights at The Lyceum and The Hammersmith Palais seeing them. 'The Unforgettable Fire'  was the first collaboration with Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, and it produced some inspired music. During the early eighties, I sent unsolicited illustrations to the U2 magazine - at the time not much more than a photocopied fanzine. But their publication may have been the catalyst that led me to a realisation that I may just be able to earn a living in design and artwork.

4. Round The Back - Café Jacques (1977)
"He lay to rest, the sun was slowly sinking, songs played are meaningless now"

I was a glam kid in the early seventies; Slade, Sweet, Mud, I'll even admit to owning an Osmonds single! And as the seventies drew to a close I struggled with punk. I didn't get The Clash until 'London Calling', The Jam until 'All Mod Cons', XTC until 'Drums and Wires', The Stranglers until 'Black & White'. So while the angry kids were thrashing their guitars and spitting at their audience, I was still desperately clinging on to uncool bands like Genesis, 10cc and Steely Dan. Three bands that - were they to emerge from a Kenwood mixer, may well have a produced an album sounding rather like 'Round The Back' by Café Jacques. Café Jacques were a scottish band who - despite the punk landscape, followed their own path; produced two great albums (this and 'International' in 1978); were championed by Phil Collins; and sank without trace. I've never met anyone who has heard of them and I don't expect any mutual appreciation for this choice. It's probably not worth seeking them out unless you're still lamenting the loss of Genesis (unlikely). I can remember the first time I heard this album - the sofa was pulled up close to the coal fire in it's winter position and I listened on headphones the size of cereal bowls. It remains my musical hot tea and toast. 

3. Get Happy! - Elvis Costello & The Attractions (1980)
"He'd seen the bottom of a lot of glasses, but he'd never seen love so near, he'd seen love get so expensive, but he'd never seen love so dear"

This album does what it says on the tin. If I'm ever in need of a lift this album does it, definitely the Elvis Costello feel good album, and my reason for placing it above 'This Year's Model' 'Armed Forces' and 'King of America' in my Top Ten. Elvis listened to stacks of Stax (see what I did), Soul and Motown prior to making this album, and himself admits to lifting a couple of Booker T and Four Tops parts long before 'sampling' became part of the music norm. I remember walking home from work at the local supermarket with this album under my arm, and an air of anticipation in my step - I never tire of it. I also love the cover design by the great Barney Bubbles - still a massive influence on my own work. There is a great retro feel to the cover that perfectly represents the music. The 'scuffing' effect on the artwork - as if the album has been continuously in and out of a listeners collection, is inspired. Apparently the US record company found this unacceptable and insisted on the artwork being cleaned up!

2. Steve McQueen - Prefab Sprout (1985)
"Here she is with two small problems, and the best part of the blame, wishing she could call him heartache, but it's not a boy's name"

Their first album 'Swoon' didn't quite get me, but Steve McQueen is perfection and I continuously return to it. Prefab Sprout - and this album in particular, evokes memories of listening to the Anne Nightingale show on Sundays - she was always a great champion of the band. 'From Langley Park…' pushes this a very close second in my affection, and I hope that Paddy still has a few more great albums up his sleeve. Genius doesn't do him justice and as I'm sure everyone here has this album, I need say no more.

1. Sheet Music - 10cc (1974)
"Old men of rock and roll, came bearing music, where are they now?"

I can remember walking home from school singing the 'Rubber Bullets' chorus to myself, and - at the time, having no clue who this band were. It was 1973, and the start of a long and rewarding appreciation - I saw the current incarnation of the band last year. Any of the first four albums could have been in my top ten, but 'Sheet Music' has the perfect mix of ingredients - from the hit singles, the epic cinematic songs, to the quirky one that Gouldman gets to sing. We were able to play records in our art lesson at school and this was regularly on the turntable. I play it now and can be back in that class, it continues to inspire me creatively. As with 'Get Happy!', the artwork to this album adds to the overall appreciation I have for it. The clever visualisation of the Sheet Music title is a perfect example of Storm Thorgerson at his best. The finest work from the original band of Gouldman/Stewart/Godley/Creme and although they have since enjoyed greater success, creatively this was their peak. "Play me" …oh alright then!


  1. what a great list - going to check out phil Campbell now. The Husky one is a great lp

  2. Also rate this list highly. I thought I was the only person who bought the Phil Campbell album! The track 'Hope, faith and you' is a hell of a great song. Heartily recommend the album, David.

    1. I like the Phil Campbell albums although their chronology has been screwed up.
      There have been cobbled compilations walking tall as new releases...
      'Fresh New Life' is great as is 'Phil Campbell' from which I recommend 'Cold Engines'.
      I found him too through that White Buffalo track 'Hope Faith and You' Phil. Was it on a Mojo freebie? Christ, that must be over 15 years ago. And he's a fresh new talent?

    2. Hope, Faith and You is the song Cliff Richard covered

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