Author: John Kell

2018 – albums at half-way

It feels like this year has been very strong for new music, so here’s a set of videos from probably my 15 favourite albums in the first half of the year – though I could have listed as many more again that I’d recommend. The full playlist is here on YouTube, or click on the individual videos below. They’re presented in release date order, and the title given is the album, not necessarily the song.

1. The Go! Team – Semicircle

2. Kyle Craft – Full Circle Nightmare

3. Shannon and The Clams – Onion

4. The Lovely Eggs – This Is Eggland

5. Gwenno – Le Kov

6. John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness

7. Tigercats – Pig City

8. Traveller – Western Movies

9. Charles Watson – Now That I’m A River

10. Half Man Half Biscuit – No-one Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin’ Hedge Cut

11. Jennifer Castle – Angels of Death

12. Polychrome – Polychrome

13. Red Red Eyes – Horology

14. Tracyanne and Danny – Tracyanne and Danny

15. Holy Now – Think I Need the Light

2016 albums

Back in July I compiled a list of my favourite dozen albums from the year so far.

A quick survey of the records I’ve enjoyed since them – some released before July, but unheard by me at the time – produced 15 favourites. Giving a rather unwieldy top 27 for the year. So I added another three to make it a round 30.

My main reflection from this is that it’s been a particularly good year for Americana, but there’s all sorts of other things in there too. The full Youtube playlist is here if you just want that (and the Jan-Jun one is here).

1. Kristin Kontrol – X-Communicate

The most polished pop record I’ve enjoyed in 2016.

2. Laura Gibson – Empire Builder

Idiosyncratic American folk that I found only revealed itself after quite a lot of listens – it was worth sticking with.

3. Karl Blau – Introducing Karl Blau

This is the first of two Tucker Martine-produced records in a row – Blau presents a collection of 60s and 70s country tunes here, with a great deal of charm.

4. case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs

Pretty much what you’d expect, and no less welcome for that.

5. Let’s Eat Grandma – I, Gemini

I don’t think I’ve heard a record quite like this before. I like both the way the songs are allowed to run to their own (often languid) pace, and the name being based on a grammar lesson.

6. Sara Watkins – Young In All The Wrong Ways

Lyrically quite raw, but musically mostly pretty refined, this is a great record.

7. MJ Hibbett and the Validators – Still Valid

I said In July I expected this would be GRATE. It is. Genius video for this song too.

8. Haley Bonar – Impossible Dream

This is a listenable, absorbing record.

9. Lydia Loveless – Real

Lydia’s set another new direction here, heading towards pop or at least indie rock. My first impressions were muted, but I found listening to the album on shuffle that the songs individually stand up better than I first thought, so maybe there’s something about the running order that didn’t click for me. Lydia consistently refuses to make the same record twice and seems to be on a journey with her sound – I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes her next.

10. Bloom – What Is Life

Formerly The Beautiful Word, Brighton’s Bloom have swapped one slightly rubbish name for another, but produced an absolutely belting record. I was very pleased to support the crowdfunder for this – it’s ace.

11. Angel Olson – My Woman

This seems to have got to the upper reaches of a lot of end-of-year charts, and I can see why. I particularly like the fact that they made a video for this eight-minute-plus song, which has a stunning outro (admittedly accounting for most of the eight minutes).

12. King Creosote – Astronaut Meets Appleman

This was the year, long overdue, when I started paying proper attention to King Creosote.

13. The Tuts – Update Your Brain

It was great to see The Tuts finally get an album out, and doubly so that it delivered on the sass, snarl and sometimes chaos they offer when playing live.

14. Amanda Shires – My Piece of Land

This was one of several recommendations by Laura Cantrell in an online end-of-year article, and wasn’t the one that grabbed me most on first listen – but having got to know it, I’d now say it’s probably my favourite of those records. Really lovely.

15. Pixies – Head Carrier

It seems bizarre that it’s getting easy to take a new Pixies album for granted. Let’s not do that.

16. The Hidden Cameras – Home on Native Land

An unexpected foray into country and soul for Joel Gibb – the covers are nice enough, but the original songs are the real attraction here.

17. Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions – Until the Hunter

You know what you’re getting with Hope Sandoval, and it’s good.

18. Maggie8 – LO

There’s no online video for this album that does it justice – it’s mostly much more dramatic and energetic than this suggests. The meld of styles to produce ‘Hindi indie’ is what mostly gets written about where Maggie8 are concerned, but there’s a sense of Northern melodrama about some of these songs that reminds me of early Smiths, even though sonically there’s hardly any resemblance at all.

To save you the clicking, here are the dozen albums I particularly enjoyed in the first half of the year.
1. Emma Pollock – In Search of Harperfield
2. Nervous Twitch – Don’t Take My TV
3. Basia Bulat – Good Advice
4. Steven James Adams – Old Magick
5. Emmy the Great – Second Love
6. TeenCanteen – Say It All With A Kiss
7. Kate Jackson – British Road Movies
8. Laura Cantrell at the BBC
9. Evans the Death – Vanilla
10. Garbage – Strange Little Birds
11. Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis
12. Chris T-T – 9 Green Songs

BBC sitcom season – could it have done more?

Back when the BBC announced its sitcom season, which after much anticipation begins transmission this weekend, I planned a post lamenting the conservatism of the choices of shows to be featured and suggesting some shows that might have been more interesting – if challenging – options. This needs a bit of revision now: for one thing, one of my suggestions actually got announced as a late addition to the line-up; and one of my suggestions of ‘probably too difficult’ shows became genuinely impossible.

20160827 AYBSBut also, I don’t want to write a whinge. Whatever its flaws, the season is going to present an interesting blend of spin-offs, remakes and continuations of old shows, recreations of now lost episodes, and of course a series of new pilots. But it comes at a time when the sitcom is in the doldrums in terms of mass ratings (when a sitcom does make it into the week’s most viewed programmes, it’s usually a repeat of Dad’s Army), albeit definitely not in terms of quality (Uncle, Fleabag and, beyond the BBC, Plebs and Drifters are all doing great business). A spotlight on the genre will be welcome if it can kick-start one or more new series for the future – although there’s undoubtedly the danger that it might accidentally reinforce the idea that it was better in ‘the old days’.

Also, the season continues the process of challenging how we think of a TV show: as something that runs for a few seasons and then is over. But why shouldn’t the story be picked up again years later (after all, Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads did it 40 years ago; Are You Being Served? got its own follow-up, Grace and Favour; and Shelley was revived successfully in the ‘90s)? Or why shouldn’t the same characters be revisited with different writers and casts? Bands re-form and songs get covered, so why not do the TV equivalents? This season isn’t unique on current TV in doing this, of course: Birds of a Feather has been revived on ITV, Red Dwarf on Dave and Yes, Minister (perhaps ill-advisedly) on Gold; plus the most prominent (only?) example of a show revived on its original channel, Still Open All Hours. Drama is being similarly developed, with Cold Feet back soon, the Upstairs Downstairs revival being rather better than it as generally credited with and, of course, Doctor Who still the grandaddy of all revivals (though the wretched This Life +10 shows that dangers of this kind of exercise… and the less said about wartime-set Eastenders prequel Civvy Street, the better).

20160827 porridgeThat said, the conservatism of the choices is a bit of a pity. Wherever the idea of a ‘golden age’ of TV and, by extension, a ‘golden age’ of sitcoms came from, it remains pervasive: only two shows selected were created after the 1970s. So I had a little think and came up with a list of potentially more interesting choices, mostly more recent. If the season is meant to celebrate sixty years of the BBC sitcom, after all, it seems odd to ignore the last two or three decades.

Tempting though it was to list some relatively unpopular or unsuccessful shows that I have a soft spot for (Clone, Badults, Josh…), I’ve tried to keep it both feasible and focused on successful shows – although, for fun, I have a list of not-quite-possible as well…

Part One: Shows the BBC could and perhaps should have included

Goodnight Sweetheart
20160827 sweetheartThis is the one that needed re-writing, of course – and very welcome that is. My original thought was that, 17 years on, Gary is living in 1962, and the modern world would seem as alien to him as the 1940s did when he first went down Duckett’s Passage. This seems very much the approach the new show (pilot) is following, and I really hope it delivers.

Bluestone 42

It would have been great to see the squad back in Blighty, with a one-off story to round things off, perhaps as was done to such good effect with Pulling (and I’m under the impression the writers had an idea for the 4th series – I’d love to see those characters away from Afghanistan).

The League of Gentlemen
20160827 leagueWith Inside Number 9 and Crooked House, the League’s writers have excelled at one-off storytelling… a single-episode revival for Rosyton Vasey would be tempting, surely?

Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps
20160827 Two PintsThe flagship show for its channel in its day, remember. The final series ended on a cliffhanger, having only just been re-booted with new characters. It deserves a proper ending.

Early Doors
EARLY DOORS_EP4You could easily do a one-off episode of this: ten years on and nothing in The Grapes has changed!

20160827 hiObviously this couldn’t be a straight continuation, but how about a prequel set in the golden age of holiday camps, showing maybe Ted and Gladys earlier in their Maplin’s careers?

White Van Man
wvmpromo-4OK, there’s not a specific case for reviving this as such, I just think it should have got a third series.

It Sticks Out Half A Mile
20160827 armyNow, bear with me here. This was a radio follow-up to Dad’s Army, in which some of the former Home Guard platoon buy and operate the pier at Walmington-on-Sea. Originally to star Arthur Lowe as well as others, it was re-cast to feature Bill Pertwee’s Warden Hodges when Lowe died after recording the pilot. The Dad’s Army characters have recently been re-cast twice, for the movie and the BBC’s ‘We’re Doomed!’, so any taboo about that has been broken – and both ventures had some extremely good re-casting that could be cherry-picked to bring this radio show to the screen for the first time.

Part Two: Non-runners, but it’s nice to think about

20160827 couplingSteven Moffat left his thoughts for where the characters ended up on Outpost Gallifrey… could he pick it up ten years on from that? One question though is what the basis of the humour would be, now that, presumably, they’re all settled? As far as I can see, the show is simply over.

The Likely Lads
The feud between Bewes and Bolam, which dates back to just after the completion of the Likely Lads film, would probably rule this out. But would we like to see what Bob and Terry are like in old age, wandering around modern-day Newcastle and grumbling about Sage Gateshead? I think so!

20160827 SorryThis is the one that, sadly, is now a total write-off. But while Ronnie Corbett was still alive, I was going to suggest, it would have been fascinating to see what Timothy Lumsden was like in old age. If the joke originally was that, in his 40s, he was still essentially a schoolboy, perhaps in his dotage he’d be nearly ready for a mid-life crisis? Though to be fair, that’s quite close to the original premise of Last of the Summer Wine (which had its own prequel, of course… it’s really not such a big deal, this sitcom spin-off business, is it?).

Ever Decreasing Circles
20160827 circlesThis is a show where the lead actor is no longer with us but two of the key supporting cast members are. If the show were to be revisited perhaps a melancholic character-led reunion of Paul and Ann, reflecting on the memory of Martin, could work… but, arguing against myself, without Martin getting annoyed by Paul, there’s really no show. Plus, there is a precedent for revisiting a successful show with just the supporting cast – The Legacy of Reginald Perrin – which is probably more of a warning than a recommendation (and let’s also note that sadly we’ve lost Stanley Lebor as Howard too). Then again, maybe a prequel could be workable – why did Martin turn out like he did? And what did happen between Martin and Ann in Kidderminster…?

All images copyright BBC.

2016 – albums so far

We’re half-way through the year, so here’s a quick run-down of my favourite albums so far (with a couple of EPs and other honourable mentions at the end). Here’s the full playlist, if you just want to watch that.

Emma Pollock – In Search of Harperfield

The first record I really enjoyed this year, and a really accomplished album.

Nervous Twitch – Don’t Take My TV

Yes the vocals are flat, but who cares? This record is enormous fun, and rewards a lot of listens – it’s much more smartly put together than the indie presentation suggests.

Basia Bulat – Good Advice

Produced by Jim James of My Morning Jacket, who found a distinctive and unusual way of showcasing these excellent songs that still sounds quite full and lush – this live rendition is a bit more orthodox than what you’ll find on the record, but still very recognisable.

Steven James Adams – Old Magick

Adams’ most considered, thoroughly produced record, and a consistently powerful and compelling listen all the way through.

Emmy the Great – Second Love

Superb tunes on this – lush-but-sparse seems to be the production mode du jour, and it’s used to great effect here.

TeenCanteen – Sister

This came out via PledgeMusic, and has a much more varied and polished sound than you’d expect if you were simply told TeenCanteen are a Scottish indie band. Belting.

Kate Jackson – British Road Movies

What a welcome return this is. There’s the odd place where I’m not sure the production serves the songs on this record, but mostly it’s a poised album that puts its songs across every bit as artfully as you’d expect.

Laura Cantrell at the BBC

A collection every bit as lovely ask you’d expect, though with two tracks sourced from off-air recordings because the BBC’s masters were ‘unavailable’ – I wonder why? (And no, the video’s not a track from the album, but it’s roughly contemporary with the version of the song on the record, I think).

Evans the Death – Vanilla

Full of angst and also a horn section. No prisoners taken on the mostly recorded-as-live album, that takes Evans the Death still darker and still heavier. (No official videos from this – the clip’s just audio.)

Garbage – Strange Little Birds

Garbage always mine the same seam, and they’ve done so successfully again here – it sounds like a Garbage album, and not just that, but one of the best Garbage albums.

Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis

I’m all in favour of indie country singers getting more adventurous with their production, but it sometimes goes awry and obscures the songs. Not so here – this is polished, pin-sharp and showcases the songs brilliantly. They range from charming to touching to emotionally devastating, and are top notch thoughout. A real achievement of an album.

Chris T-T – 9 Green Songs

A follow-up of sorts to 2005’s 9 Red Songs, although with a much more full band sound. It’s a shame the referendum has made this seem like it’s from another age, as it skewers Cameron-era politics incisively, but always tunefully.

GUMS! / The Just Joans / The Hector Collectors – Just Lovely EP 

Long-awaited Scottish indie heroes split release, and every song is great. This track has more cult TV references than even I can keep up with.

Colour Me Wednesday – Anyone and Everyone EP

Yet another canny release from Colour Me Wednesday – this video doesn’t showcase it, but I love the crunchy guitar sound they always manage on record, which lots of bands seem to struggle to achieve without it sounding weedy.

Special shout-outs:
MJ Hibbett and the Validators – Still Valid: the long-awaited new (non-dinosaur) Vlads album technically comes out in July (and more pertinently, the promo video isn’t online yet), but it’s GRATE!
Case / Lang / Veirs – Case / Lang / Veirs: I fully expect this is brilliant, I just haven’t listened to it properly yet! What I’ve heard has sounded grand, though.

2015 music – 8tracks mix

Here’s a mix of my favourite music from 2015. I haven’t tried to come up with any rankings or employ any particular nuance – these are just 23 tracks mostly from my favourite albums, with an EP and a single thrown in, presented in (I think) chronological order. Full tracklisting below the picture (sadly, 8tracks’ code for embeding widgets on WordPress isn’t working any more, so you’ll have to click through – much as I like 8tracks, I suspect it will go the same way as This Is My Jam and that this might be my last mix on it). Enjoy!

20151231 8tracks

1.Sleater-Kinney – No Anthems (No Cities to Love)
2.Desperate Journalist – Cristiana (Desperate Journalist)
3.Rae Morris – Under the Shadows (Unguarded)
4.Tigercats – Wheezer (Mysteries)
5.The Wave Pictures – We Fell Asleep in the Blue Tent (Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon)
6.Laura Groves – Dream Story (Committed Language EP)
7.Evans the Death – Expect Delays (Expect Delays)
8.Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield – Fond Farewell (Sing Elliott Smith)
9.Jane Weaver – The Electric Mountain (The Amber Light / The Silver Globe deluxe edition)
10.Alabama Shakes – Gimme All You Love (Sound and Color)
11.The Lovely Eggs – I Nearly Saw A Stabbing Last Night (This Is Our Nowhere)
12.Eccentronic Research Council – You Ruined My Chippy Thursday (Johnny Rocket, Narcissist & Music Machine… I’m Your Biggest Fan)
13.The Catenary Wires – Things I Love (Red Red Skies)
14.Piney Gir – Keep It Together (Mr Hyde’s Wild Ride)
15.Mammoth Penguins – Propped Up (Hide and Seek)
16.Simon Love feat. Stewart Lee – The Meaning of Love (It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time)
17.Beach House – Beyond Love (Depression Cherry)
18.The School – He’s Gonna Break Your Heart One Day (Wasting Away and Wandering)
19.Martha Ffion – So Long (single)
20.Jeffrey Lewis and Los Bolts – Sad Screaming Old Man (Manhattan)
21.Frankie Machine – How Great Thou Art (Frankie Machine Has Been Shipwrecked on a Desert Island)
22.The Drink – Roller (Capital)
23.Johnny Marr – There is a Light that Never Goes Out (Adrenalin Baby)

John Kell Vs Santa – December 22nd 2014

I’m not doing any radio shows over this holiday period, but here’s my Christmas special from last year. As my show was always called John Kell Vs Satan, the Christmas edition was inevitably John Kell Vs Santa. This is the only one of the shows from 12 months ago that I’ve put on Mixcloud so far. The others might follow, but I’m particularly fond of this one, and especially the second hour – I don’t think you’ll quite hear this mix of Christmas music on any other show, and I was also really pleased with the jingles (on their own underneath the Mixcloud widgets – for bonus points, name the sitcoms!).

Full tracklisting
Hour 1
Severe – Stop the Cavalry
Cornshed Sisters – Have A Good Christmas
The Singing Loins – Ding Dong Merrily On High
The  Gresham Flyers – Perfect Christmas Snow
Paper Tongues – Carol of the Bells
MJ Hibbett and the Validators – Easy Christmas
Plans and Apologies – Pandaz Xmas
Geoffrey and the Livingstones – Communist Christmas
Mitch Benn – Broke the Bank This Christmas
Fever Fever – Hallelujah Carol
The Fall – No Xmas for John Quays (Since You’ve Been John)
Balor Knights – Gaudete
Tralala – Christmas Never Comes When You’re Alone
Belle and Sebastian – O Come O Come Emmanuel
Mary Epworth – The Wolf and the Woods
Hour 2
Cuckooland – Silver Bells
The Long Blondes – Christmas is Cancelled
TV Smith – Xmas Bloody Xmas
The Low Countries – Carry on Christmas
Piney Gir – Christmas Time / Snow, Snow, Beautiful Snow
Radio Orwell –  Last Christmas
Magnuson – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
The Just Joans –  Card from a Multipack
Seymour Swine – Blue Christmas
Slow Club – Christmas Baby Please Come Home
Frankie Machine – I’m Going To Kill Myself for Christmas
Christa Rebecca – You Still Come Home For Christmas
Bill Botting – Acting Without Acting
HT and the OJs – Just Say No To Christmas
Church Library –  Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

TV Times – omnibus edition

This is a compilation of all the editions of one of my favourite features from my radio shows over the summer – my TV Times, which was basically a showcase for lots of great TV theme tunes, with some blather about them afterwards from me. It wasn’t deliberate, but with hindsight I was almost certainly taking inspiration from TV Cream’s long-running theme tunes vote-off, and the inimitable Dream Themes.

All the editions were put together by category, some looser than others. Here’s a run-down of all the themes featured (for proper credits, see the Mixcloud listing).

June 29th – all the Bs

July 13th – children’s shows
Round the Twist
The Wind in the Willows
Dark Season
The Secret Service

July 27th – railway-related shows (Indietracks special)
The 8:15 From Manchester
The Train Now Departing
6:05 Special

August 10th – sitcoms
The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin
The Two Of Us
Dream Stuffing
Reggie Perrin

August 24th – 90s US drama
Due South
The X-Files
Buffy the Vampire Slayer

September 7th – gameshows
The Krypton Factor
Treasure Hunt

September 21st (1) – 90s UK drama
Jeeves and Wooster
Class Act
Hamish Macbeth
This Life

September 21st (2) – anything goes!
The Man from UNCLE
Howards’ Way
Agatha Christie’s Poirot
Miss Marple

John Kell Vs Satan – September 21s 2015

As a special treat for the final show of the series, I’ve uploaded it as recorded off FM, with thanks to my brother, complete with authentic hiss. This was a rare show where I thought the first hour was better – the second hour was a bit dominated by that extra edition of the TV Times, with a few too many themes crammed into it. There’s a preview track from the forthcoming album by MJ Hibbett and the Validators in the first hour too.

Actually there was a reason why I chose that last song, I just forgot! “Don’t paint the Devil on the wall,” indeed. To make up for the crashed vocal, I’ve blended the full length of the song into the end, beyond the fade out at 10pm as broadcast.

John Kell Vs Satan – September 7th 2015

I was very pleased to be able to play an exclusive new track from the forthcoming Frankie Machine album in this show (in the first hour, if you’re just looking for that). Otherwise it has the usual features, including the answer to the previous Final Analysis and a new (and final!) question (at the bottom of this post if you just want to listen to that), a TV Times focusing on gameshows, and a double bill of Since You’ve Been John. Kirsty MacColl is the Gone But Not Forgotten artist… and beyond that, I’ll just say that I hadn’t realised quite how much of the show all those versions of Watching the Detectives would take up…