My Festive First XI
George Paterson has his say…
As this tumultuous decade shuddered to a halt, these were my box-fresh songs of the year which were on rotation as we juiced up and made one last break for space.
These are my 17 from 19.
This Life – Vampire Weekend from the album ‘Father of the Bride’
Co-written with US rapper Ilovemakkonen and renowned hitmaker Mark Ronson who supplied the bass line, This Life iced some weighty issues with such joy that one couldn’t possibly be bothered by the contradiction. Millions of listeners agreed, sending Vampire Weekend to #1 in the Billboard album charts on the first week of its release.
Waiting For You – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds from the album ‘Ghosteen’
No-one is untouched by loss. Drone-laden, yet melodic, Ghosteen is an album by an artist completely under the skin of his craft. A piece so full of the rawest emotions and, a certain quality not automatically associated with Cave’s earlier work, heart. When he reaches the first chorus of Waiting For You, you will ache with him. Unbearably moving.
Sha Na Na (Who Shot the?) – Milo Castaneda
A quality slice of retro from mysterious Maryhillian, Milo Castaneda, who may or may not be an associate of Glasgow folk pop stalwart, Kevin McDermott. Laden with the requisite late 60’s, early 70’s beats and motifs, this is the kind of earworm tune one could picture kids in brown and orange tank tops dancing along to while their mums and grans sloshed away in the background. If Cook and Greenaway were writing in the 21st Century, I’d imagine they’d sound something like this.
Shockwave – Liam Gallagher from the album, ‘Why Me? Why Not.’
Full disclosure time. I’ve never been Oasis’ biggest fan. I completely get how big they are and the importance they have in people’s lives but if I wanted to hear Beatles derivations, I tend to go with the Rutles. Seriously, listen to ‘Cheese and Onions’ and tell me that Noel didn’t write albums worth of tunes with that in mind? What did make Oasis special in my mind was the gobby fella at the front who made even the tritest lines sound as mighty as the sermon on the mount delivered by James Earl Jones. Kicking off with a Townshend shaped riff, Shockwave was a bonafide mod-rock classic, anchored with a Fraser/Kirke styled rhythm section and filled to the brim with Liam’s trademark bravado. Co-written with multi Grammy-winning producer Greg Kurstin, this is not only a candidate for rock track of the year but for the decade too.
Colours – Black Pumas from the album, ‘Black Pumas’
Subtle but effective modern take on old school R&B from Austin based vocalist Eric Burton and his award-winning partner in soul, guitarist Adrian Quesada. Mixing Al Green’s gospel with the Allman Brothers neat groove, melting into one full-bodied, minor-keyed belter, ‘Colours’ is only one of the standouts on a very assured debut album. Keep an eye open for them.
Love and Other Hopeless Things – The Pearlfishers from the album, ‘Love and Other Hopeless Things’
An agreeable masterclass in rich symphonic pop, the title track of the album – as with the lion’s share of Pearlfishers tunes – was written, performed and produced by David Scott and provides the listener with every loungey touchstone one would ever need; the lonesome Bacharach horns, kettle drum accents and more minor sevenths than one could shake a baton at. So if you’re after a plaintive look at love in the 21st Century, get your turtleneck and your driving gloves on, take the E-Type and find a spot to ruminate on Love and Other Hopeless Things.
A Big Sunset – Empty City Squares from the album, ‘337”
Architect turned muso (or should that be Muso turned architect?) John Fotiadis finally got around to releasing his second album as Empty City Squares in 2019 and a rare treat it was too. Standing out among the primarily psych/power pop of ‘337’ was the beautifully elegiac, A Big Sunset, an infuriatingly memorable track which wouldn’t have sounded out of place among the Finn Brothers’ finest work. Perhaps Mr Fotiadis should consider making his ‘temporary gig’ a bit more permanent in 2020…
I’m the One – Sister John from the album, ‘Sister John’
Lo-fi gallusness from Glasgow’s Sister John with a track which swaggers like the Velvet’s gatecrashing Savile Row while the Beatles were trying to finish the Let it Be album. Another fine slab of sound from the Last Night From Glasgow stable. Do check them out.
Like a Ripple – Steve Mason from the EP, ‘Coup D’Etat’
Former Beta Band lead vocalist Mason returned in the autumn with this hypnotic, relentless belter. Inspired by a 4am jam at Dan Carey’s South London studio, and clearly influenced by pre-stadium era Simple Minds, Like A Ripple could be the lost theme to Trainspotting 3.
You Ain’t the Problem – Michael Kiwanuka from the album, ‘Kiwanuka’
Lead track from his third studio album, You Ain’t The Problem sees erstwhile Muswell Hill troubadour Michael Kiwanuka go full Northern Soul on us while still retaining the introspective chops that set him apart from his contemporaries. Produced by Danger Mouse, this is easily his most accomplished release to date. It won’t, but should be a #1 hit record.
(I’m) A Believer – The Lilac Time from the album, ‘Return to Us’
‘I appreciate the past
But I’m never nostalgic
Life can be hard enough
Without all that bullshit’
The tenth Lilac Time album (and the 20th in total) from the unsung hero of pop that is Stephen Duffy and it’s another collection of modern pastoral classics. The opening track from the album, (I’m) A Believer is a snapshot which not only quotes Cecil Beaton but feels as if it has been around and in my mind for decades. I’m glad Stephen finally set it free.
Timebomb – Super 8 (ft. Lisa Mychols) Single
The most prolific man in indy pop, Paul ‘Trip’ Ryan, had a rather troubled 2019 but that didn’t stop him from delivering a superb slice of retro which would, in my opinion, make an ideal Bond theme, should the Broccoli family decide to replace Daniel Craig with Duglas T Stewart. Bringing in US power pop vocalist Lisa Mychols to be the Bassey to his Barry was a masterstroke. Let’s hope that the clouds break and that 2020 is all blue skies for Trip and the S8 gang.
Baby Blue – P.P. Arnold from the album, ‘The New Adventures of…’
If you don’t know P.P. Arnold, where have you been for the last fifty years? A former Ikette, she sang with the Small Faces, worked with Roger Waters, Steel Pulse AND the KLF. And finally, in 2019 at the age of 73, this versatile vocalist made her long awaited solo return with an album produced by OCS/Weller guitarist, Steve Cradock. The first single, a cut of gorgeousness called Baby Blue, turns back the clock to the time when she was rightly crowned ‘London’s Queen of Soul’.
True Kinda Love – Zach Callison and Estelle from the album, ‘Steven Universe Motion Picture Soundtrack’
A magical piece of modern R&B pop with retro sensibilities which melted hearts in kids from one to ninety-two. Could’ve come straight from the Songs In The Key Of Life sessions and that says it all.
Whatever’s Written in Your Heart – Karine Polwart from the album, ‘Scottish Songbook’
The only cover version I allowed onto the list and that’s because the album, ‘Scottish Songbook’ is Ms Polwart’s compendium of her favourite tunes written by Alba’s sons and daughters; in this instance, the late Gerry Rafferty. I’m normally wary of compilations of this kind as in my experience, they tend to have one or two decent tracks with the rest making you reach for the ‘next’ button but this album dispelled that theory completely. Unshowy but assured, every single song was perfectly judged and performed with heart, especially ‘Whatever’s Written in Your Heart’. Lovely stuff.
Feel the Sun – Josefin Öhrn and the Liberation from the album, ‘Sacred Dreams’
Sleepwalking slinkiness from London based Swede Josefin Öhrn and her band the Liberation. Just over four minutes of breathy, bass driven electro/psych pop which will have you searching for more, guaranteed.
Love, Hate, Passion and War – Armstrong from the album, Under Blue Skies
A collaborative release between two of the world’s finest indie labels (S.Wales’ Country Mile Records and Ottawa’s The Beautiful Music), Under Blue Skies written, performed and produced by Armstrong (AKA Julian Pitt) was a record of such melodic magnificence that frankly, a single placing on this end of year chart does not do it sufficient justice. The song Love, Hate, Passion and War, just about gets the nod as the standout track but it was close. If you like your pop with a killer melody and jaunty jangle, look no further than Armstrong.
#1 – Waiting For You – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
#2 – Love and Other Hopeless Things – The Pearlfishers
#3 – A Big Sunset – Empty City Squares
#4 – You Ain’t the Problem – Michael Kiwanuka
#5 – Sha Na Na (Who Shot The?) – Milo Castaneda
#6 – I’m the One – Sister John
#7 – This Life – Vampire Weekend
#8 – Shockwave – Liam Gallagher
#9 – Timebomb – Super 8 (ft Lisa Mychols)
10 – Baby Blue – P.P. Arnold
11 – Love, Hate, Passion and War – Armstrong
12 – Like a Ripple – Steve Mason
13 – (I’m) A Believer – The Lilac Time
14 – Colours – Black Pumas
15 – True Kinda Love – Zach Callison and Estelle
16 – Whatever’s Written in Your Heart – Karine Polwart
17 – Feel The Sun – Josefin Öhrn and the Liberation
See you in 2020!