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Category: Music

Suspend the outside world for a while: Thoughts on Glastonbury Festival

Posts on this blog have been a bit scarce for the last couple of weeks, mostly because I spent a several days in a field in Somerset. I listened to music, watched comedy and saw the odd politician1 I was lucky enough to attend Glastonbury Festival, a cornucopia of delights that I have gone to since I was fifteen.  This was my seventh time at the festival. I have been to others in the meantime, but it remains the original and the best. It is a marvellous tent town where the outside world is put on hold for a while, where the normal rules no longer apply and where art and hope rules above everything else.  I thought I’d write about why it remains so special to me and many others.

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Enduring art (Same as it ever was)

I was listening to the rather excellent Book Shambles podcast the other day. It is a rambling discussion about books and literature, usually with a guest to guide the discussion. One of the hosts, Robin Ince, mentioned The Great Gatsby, saying that every time he reads it he finds new insight in its pages. It’s my experience that despite being a relatively slim novella, the complex characters and removed perspective provides a wealth of wisdom and observations. It got me thinking about art that endures throughout your life, that helps to shape you at different moments. I think this is one of the qualities of the best art, that each time you go back to it it is richer and more in-depth than before. Re-readings and re-watchings allow for greater emotional impact, instead of diminishing returns. The art endures throughout your life.

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Best of 2016

2016 was a curious year. Politics ate itself and the internet took over all discourse. But personally, it was pretty good. I published two books, one a collection of short stories and one playscript. I wrote this blog every week, made a website and got in the habit of producing things regularly. I went to Skye for a long week and went to loads of gigs. It’s odd having this dichotomy between the terrible news of politics and the quite good personal life.

The year end is a natural time to reflect, so following the lead of everyone else with a blog, I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect on some of my personal cultural highlights.

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Nick Cave and music that is too difficult to listen to

I finally got round to listening to the new Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album Skeleton Tree. It is an incredible listen, but also quite harrowing. After twenty-three years as a band and sixteen studio releases, the music still manages to sound fresh and different. Warren Ellis’ sparse but haunting instrumentation adds a strange melancholy air to the proceedings. I’ve listened a few times now and I think it might be one of my favourite albums by the band. But also, I don’t plan on listening to it too much.

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Just Walk Away: On Cynicism and Subjectivity

I was at Tramlines music festival in Sheffield at the weekend. There was sunshine, there was music, there was booze. Lots of good times were had. One of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing was Public Service Broadcasting, who did not disappoint.

I think the band are really something special, with a unique blend of live music and retro samples. However, I can appreciate they are not for everyone. They were oddly scheduled as well, on the main stage before the headliners Catfish and the Bottlemen.

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Radiohead and the importance of letting ideas gestate

I’ve been hugely excited to listen to the new Radiohead album A Moon Shaped Pool. It’s really good, thankfully. There’s lush, layered sounds and a strange type of orchestration, with genuine emotion in a number of the songs.

One of the absolute highlights of the album comes at the end, with True Love Waits. It was included on a live album, I Might Be Wrong, but has never had a proper release. On the new album it is starkly different, stripped down with the main instrumentation on piano not guitar. The singing is more vulnerable and painful. It’s beautiful.

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Zaireeka and the live experience

The live music experience is still thriving, even as CD sales fall. For many bands, it is the primary way of making a living. It seems odd that even as we devalue recorded music, live music has stayed important. I believe it comes down to the experience.

A live performance is special partly because it is a shared experience. Even if you attend a gig by yourself, you are surrounded by like minded fans and the band. We are social creatures at heart and being physically present with others adds a power and intensity to the experience. You are forced to listen to every note. In addition, there’s always the danger at a gig that something might go wrong or the music will be played differently.

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