So, it’s nearly the end of the festive season and I’ve been ensconced in films, DVD box sets and radio programmes and now it’s time to fire up my brain box and reflect on the year that was 2009. Here are some of the things in the world of popular culture that I enjoyed over the past 12 months.
Darren Hayman at The Hangover Lounge, Islington
I have been a Hefner fan since my teenage years (and still have a much loved, if somewhat creased Boxing Hefner poster) adorning my wall so to have the chance to see Darren Hayman play a totally acoustic set, no mics, no amps just voice and ukelele and violin for accompaniment was a rare and wonderful thing. He was appearing as part of the birthday celebrations of Mr John Jervis of Where It’s At Is Where You Are records and his set included a rendition of Hefner’s ‘The Greedy Ugly People’. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much on a rainy, late January afternoon in my life. Cheers, Darren.
Hefner performing ‘ The Greedy Ugly People’, BBC Sessions
Goth Oddessy 2009: The Cure play a ‘God Like Genius’ set at the London Mega-Dome (Aka NME big gig at 02 arena)
It was awards month and The Cure celebrated their Godlike Genius accolade from NME by playing a sell out gig at the O2 Arena. I had never seen them before, and this gigantic, ulta-branded place was an odd place to start but they played a suitably moody and hit-laden set. It was fun to play ‘spot the Robert Smith look-a-like’ in the crowd too.
The Cure performing ‘Primary’ at the NME Big Gig, London O2 Arena
Buccaneer Hearts first ever gig, The Good Ship, London
Matt and I play in an indie-folk combo called Buccaneer Hearts; while we don’t usually use Kid Vinyl to plug our music, it was a big thing for us to finally play a gig after months of jamming. It was like many of the best things in life: a little shambolic, nerve jangling and over far too quickly and a lot of fun. We also got to play with the awesome Grave Architects, here they are with The Bike Song.
In The Loop (Film)
Armando Iannucci and the rest of the team behind The Thick of It brought all the bite and scathing sweary Malcolm Tucker one-liners to the big screen. It is a stand alone piece and works whether you are familiar with The Thick of It or not. Peter Capaldi is every bit as fierce in widescreen as Malcolm Tucker .The face-off between Tucker and the hulking figure that is James Gandolfini’s anti-war General Miller at the UN secretariat is one of my favourite on screen moments all year round.
No sleep till Minehead! All Tomorrow’s Parties curated by The Breeders
Winter was over, which in camp KV meant two things: trips to the seaside and the start of festival season. It was my first ever ATP festival and it was a strange and wonderful affair. Where else can an erstwhile indie kid get knitting lessons from Kelley Deal, see post -punk (Wire, Gang of Four) legends in halls where families normally watch cabaret acts and play bingo, play poker with Steve Albini and watch Bon Iver with tear-filled eyes under the beady gaze of enormous decorative butterflies? All that and they had water flumes, sweet. A weekend in Butlins has never been so appealing; roll on Pavement in 2010.
Rise of the cult band: Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
2009 was a good year for ‘cult’ bands. Animal Collective were getting broadsheet column inches, Grizzly Bear followed suit and Beyonce’s little sister was slamming to Dirty Projectors. One band that seemed to have truly taken the spirit of the underground and fanzine culture this year is the Pains of Being Pure At Heart. I saw them in Cargo in the most twee mosh pit I’ve ever witnessed. ‘Young Adult Friction’ has to be one of the most played songs of the year on the indie airwaves and the singalong was anthemic: exciting stuff.
Parklife: Blur’s live return at Hyde Park
When I heard the news that Graham Coxon was rejoining his band mates for some gigs back in December last year it was the best early Christmas present I could have asked for. They were the first band I ever saw live, I have loved them since I was 13 years old and Modern Life is Rubbish is one of my all time favourite records. You could say I was excited! But even at the height of ‘Blur-mania’ in 1994-1996 I couldn’t have envisaged them playing two sold out nights in Hyde Park. It was always a bit fashionable to slate Blur as the art-school poshos who lost out to the ‘people’s band’, Oasis in the great chart battle of August 1995. Even other bands who had previously slammed them were full of retrospective praise, with people like Nicky Wire admitting a love of Beetlebum and Graham Coxon’s guitar playing.
I went to the second night of their two night stand. They came on to The Debt Collector as the sky turned a beautiful shade of red in the summer heat and I instantly had the same ‘butterflies’ as when I saw them headline Mile End in 1995. For me, and many others it was the gig of the year-even Damon Albarn had a tear in his eye. Whatever the future holds for Blur as a band; Hyde Park will go down as a legendary gig and my favourite musical ‘moment’ of the year by a County (House) Mile.
Radiohead at Reading
Continuing the theme of massive bands this summer; one of the other big highlights had to be Radiohead’s career-spanning two hour set at Reading. Reading Festival may be a lot more corporate and over crowded than it once was (I’m a seasoned veteran, having been every year since 1997) but it still pulls in show-stopping headline sets and this year was no exception. As night fell on Richfield Avenue it felt absolutely right that Radiohead should return to close the Festival. Thom Yorke even managed a wise-crack or two. They opened with Creep followed up with the menacing National Anthem To see thousands of people going nuts for In Rainbows tracks like 15 Step as well as old fail-safes like Just is a testament to why they are still as big as they are.
Radiohead playing National Anthem at Reading Festival 2009
End of the Road Festival
This is the festival that holds a special place in my affections. Aside from an ace line up, there is something entirely magical and escapist about Larmer Tree Gardens on the Wiltshire/Dorset border. As you wend your way through the hedge row maze you may just find an impromtu band playing, as I did with Okkervil River on the Sunday. There is also a light-up disco floor in the middle of the woods which is ace, especially when fuelled by the heady, hot ‘n’ spicy cider. Fleet Foxes were magical as dusk fell on the Saturday, there were late night tales courtesy of Sarah Bennetto’s Storytellers’ Club, comedic antics courtesy of Robin Ince’s Book club and The Hold Steady had to rank as the most enthusiastic band in the world, it was pretty infectious. Worth travelling into the deepest English countryside for.
Pixies revisit Doolittle at Brixton Academy
Number three in the hat trick of favourite bands (after Blur in July and Radiohead in August). Cynical tales of band in- fighting and ‘they are only doing it for the money’ be damned, they played a truly awesome set. Pixies sound amazing, and bloody loud and if Kim Deal and Frank Black really don’t get on then it sure as hell wasn’t on display that night. They dusted off 1989’s Doolittle and its associated B-sides as well as few off record favourites too. Kim deserves extra points for not errupting into a coughing/laughter fit during Into The White where she was entirely obscured by great cloud of dry ice. Perhaps Frank Black had a little word with the tech crew before hand.
Bunny and the Bull (film)
Thanks to a kind friend, I was able to see a preview screening ahead of its release. Written and directed by Paul King of The Mighty Boosh fame; Bunny and the Bull takes all back-projected visuals and two-hander wordplay from the Boosh and turns in into a a roadtrip through the mind of an OCD suffering recluse. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, but it’s the magical realm and journey through the mind that really captivated me. Fans of Michel Gondry and Terry Gillingham should give it a whirl.
Winter of discontent: Rage Against the Machine becoming the Christmas No 1
I didn’t chose this as my final highlight because I was particularly behind the campaign, in truth I was kind of ambivalent. I’ve long been resigned to the Christmas No 1 being naff (although there is something quite satisfactory in seeing Simon Cowell having to admit defeat) and I acknowledge all the counter-arguments about major labels benefitting irrespective of the outcome . The reason I’ve chosen it as my highlight because I like the fact that in an era where people download so much music for free; a few individuals used the influence of social networking to change something. It’s exciting when a seemingly foregone conclusion is changed by the actions of others. Ultimately it doesn’t really mean anything, but it got people talking, debating and most importantly engaging with music. It will be interesting to see whether the same principles can work for future campaigns, not just in music/pop culture but in creating a wave in other areas of public interest as well.