BrewDogging #86: Basingstoke

Everybody talk about - Pop Masingstoke! (Actually, I'm quite pleased with this picture, achieved with just a bit of in-camera fiddling and no post-production work, so feel free to click on it to see it bigger.)The first BrewDogging post appeared here in February 2013, which means that the project has been running now for just over eleven years. Truth be told, neither The Belated Birthday Girl nor I have quite the same enthusiasm for it now as we did back then. The bars are starting to look a bit samey, the beers have lost their sense of adventure, and then there was all this shit all over the papers last month.

We're still drinking the beers, but that drive to visit every single bar as soon as possible after it opened has left the building by now. It's a fun way to push us into visiting places we wouldn't normally go - and there are a couple of examples of that already in the pipeline for 2024. But to pluck an example out of the air, we wouldn't be using the existence of a bar as a reason to visit, say, Basingstoke.

Or would we?

Continue reading "BrewDogging #86: Basingstoke" »

Picks Of The Year 1982 - 2023: The Video Playlists

Picks Of The Year 1993 - 2008 inclusive. There isn't enough image space on the page to include them all, sorry.[Updated 21/01/2024 to include the playlist for 2023.]

At least one of the links below tells you the full story, so I won't go through it all again. But in brief: since 1982, I've been producing an annual series of Pick Of The Year compilations, collating my favourite tracks from that year's music releases. From 1982 to 1989, they were gargantuan twin-tape affairs: between 1993 and 1997, they were single 90 minute cassettes: and since 1998, I've been burning them onto CDs. (I didn't make compilations at the time for 1990-1992, but two decades later I created some CD-length ones as a best-guess approximation with the benefit/hindrance of hindsight.)

1998 was the year that I started writing about these compilations on the interwub, as they were being produced. The years before then have been subsequently been documented on this site, with a lot of ironic pointing and laughing at the sort of junk I used to listen to. Put all that together, and you've got a hefty collection of tracks covering my musical interests from 1982 to the present day.

And thanks to YouTube, you can hear most of them right now. The playlists below aren't complete, inevitably: some artists are less happy than others about letting their product be heard for free. But the vast majority of the songs I've chosen are there in some form or other - from official record company videos, to slapdash fan-made tributes consisting of a single still image with the song playing over the top. (I guess my own Felix Project videos fall somewhere in between those two stools.)

Anyway, you've got a couple of days' worth of music here that I've liked at one time or another. And I'll be updating this page each time I produce a new POTY compilation. Enjoy.

For those of you who don't want to look at videos, there are also Spotify playlists available for each year, although many of them have at least one track missing. See the relevant pages covering the years 1982-1989, 1990-1999, 2000-2009 and 2010-2019. And if you make it all the way to the bottom of this page, you'll be rewarded with a single 791-song, 63 and a half hour playlist of the whole damn lot (though the widget only displays the first hundred tracks, the coward).

Continue reading "Picks Of The Year 1982 - 2023: The Video Playlists" »

Kiss Me While The World Decays: Pick Of The Year 2023

Apologies to the two accidental guest stars on the cover. You know who you are.So lie near the wall
And cover your head
Good night and God bless
Now fuck off to bed

- for Shane MacGowan, 1957-2023

It’s now 25 years since my long-running Pick Of The Year compilation series transitioned from cassette to CD. Over that quarter of a century, people have been trying to ring the death knell for CD as a music format, but not me: I happen to like the constraint of having to cram all my favourite tunes of the year into 79 minutes and 57 seconds.

But in 2023, I’ve finally had to admit that there’s one part of the process that is dead – the CD jewel case. It’s becoming almost impossible to get hold of writable CDs with full size cases, and you have to go to specialist dealers if you want to buy cases separately. And commercially available CDs almost completely avoid using them in their packaging. I had a look at the few CDs I’ve bought this decade that came in jewel cases – the Specials, Half Man Half Biscuit, Tom Jones - and realised with a jolt that the full size case has become a signal that This Is The Sort Of Music That Old People Like You Like.

So for both practical and ecological reasons, with a bit of personal shame thrown in, this year’s POTY is the first one to come packaged in a slimline case, with a single 5x5 bit of card containing both the cover image and the track listing. Not that this is relevant to most of you, who’ll be listening to these songs on Spotify or YouTube – just the half a dozen or so people on my Christmas list who’ll be getting a CD copy. As ever, you could be one of those people, if you enter the competition to win a CD at the bottom of this page. But first, let’s see what you’ll be listening to.

Continue reading "Kiss Me While The World Decays: Pick Of The Year 2023" »

Mostly MIF 2023 part 2

Relax, Australians, you appear to be irreplaceable. [photo by The BBG]Let’s start the second part of our MIF 2023 review (part one’s here) with a visit to Festival Square, the public face of the event. For the first decade or more, it was in Albert Square, the huge open space outside the town hall. But in 2021, the town hall was undergoing a massive refurbishment (it's still going on in 2023) and Albert Square was closed. So they moved it out to a space close to the cathedral, which had the benefit of still being relatively on the beaten track. We were doing social distancing back then, which meant there were often queues to get in, and occasional hiccups like the notorious Twat Island Incident. But it still felt like a big social hub where festivalgoers and the general public could mingle.

From now on, it looks like Festival Square is going to be in the space directly underneath Aviva Studios. It has its good points and its bad points: the robot beer dispensing machines that ejaculate pale ale out of the side if you haven’t lined up your glass in there perfectly could potentially fall into either category.

Continue reading "Mostly MIF 2023 part 2" »

The Civil List

I do.On this day, June 14th 2023, The Belated Birthday Girl and I are marking twenty-two years of doing that thing we do. Regular readers may well be aware of that anniversary, and wondering if we’ve planned anything special for it.

Well, on this day, June 14th 2023, The Belated Birthday Girl and I have entered into a civil partnership, because it’d be too much admin to have to maintain two different anniversaries a year. The ceremony was held in one of our favourite places of worship, the Lexi cinema in north west London, in front of a small audience of friends and family.

You probably have questions at this point, and I’m here to answer your most pressing one: what was the party playlist like?

Continue reading "The Civil List" »

Take The Drums Out: Pick Of The Year 2022

It's the second time this picture's been used on the site this year, if that helps.Anniversaries? We’ve got ‘em. The 41st of my annual Pick Of The Year compilations, in which the best music from the previous twelve months is squashed onto the most common storage medium of the day, hits several milestones: it’s the 5th one to get a Christmas Day release, the 25th one to make it onto a CD, the 30th one that Lou has been given a copy of, and then there’s the small matter of it being 40 years this month since I first attempted to compile one. Last year, I wrapped up the 40th compilation by saying “I think ultimately, the test is going to be this: has it become a chore trying to find 80 minutes of new music that I enjoy each year? When we hit a year when that’s the case, then I guess I’ll stop. But it hasn’t happened yet.”

Still not happened.

So, with the usual season’s greetings from myself and The Belated Birthday Girl, here’s 78 minutes of the best music of 2022 in text, YouTube and Spotify form. And at the end of this page you can find the usual competition to win a copy of it as an actual CD. Can you beat Dave this year? I’ll be interested to find out.

Continue reading "Take The Drums Out: Pick Of The Year 2022" »

Hashtag #BurnItAll: Pick Of The Year 2021

Emergency! Emergency! Fire in Image One! Bring water!To go through the story one more time. In late 1982, inspired by my purchase a few months earlier of a twin deck cassette recorder, I put together a 120 minute compilation of my favourite songs of the year, and called it Pick Of The Year 1982. I did something similar the following year, and kept going.

Merry Christmas and welcome to Pick Of The Year 2021, which is therefore the fortieth one of these that I’ve done. It’s an 80 minute CD rather than two C60s, but the aim is still the same – an end-of-year snapshot of the music that’s most taken my fancy over the last twelve months.

Did I imagine back in 1982 that four decades later, they would still be releasing new music that would take my fancy? Not sure. It probably wouldn’t have surprised me to have been told that: like most people I knew of my generation at the time, music defined me in a way that I suspect isn’t quite as comprehensive for a teenager these days. They’ve got other things going on, and fair play to them for that. Looking at the track listing below, I can’t help noticing how many old acts are on there – and how many cover versions, too. Plus there’s all the jazz, the modern classical, whatever the thing is with Estonian bagpipes on it...

...and, of course, the way that the list is limited by the capacity of a physical medium that very few people care about any more. (Trying to get hold of old-style jewel cases and CD labels this year has turned out to be an absolute bugger to do.) Still, if you’re one of those people, you’ll be delighted to learn that once again the bottom of this page contains a competition to win a CD copy of Hashtag #BurnItAll: Pick Of The Year 2021 for yourself. I still haven’t gone down the obvious route of making the competition question ‘Is your name Dave?’, so maybe we’ll save that one for the fiftieth compilation. But for now, here’s the fortieth.

Continue reading "Hashtag #BurnItAll: Pick Of The Year 2021" »

Manchester International Festival 2021 (part 2)

[THE SOUND OF THE DELTA VARIANT CHEERFULLY HOPPING BETWEEN BEAN BAGS]In previous Manchester International Festivals – look, just go back to part one of this piece and follow the links in there, I can’t be bothered typing them again – anyway, back then the hub of the event was Festival Square. For the other 102 weeks of the bi-year it was Albert Square, the big public space in front of the town hall. But at MIF time, it became a riot of food stalls, bars and tented stages offering mostly free entertainment.

This year was always going to be different, and not just for the obvious reason. Manchester Town Hall is in the middle of a massive refurbishment programme, meaning that Albert Square is closed off. So for 2021 (and probably 2023), Festival Square has relocated to the space outside Manchester Cathedral. It’s still offering booze, food and entertainment, but this time round entry has to be carefully controlled, with all visitors carefully spaced out into meticulously organised bubbles.

They would have managed it, too, if it hadn’t been for the inhabitants of Twat Island.

Continue reading "Manchester International Festival 2021 (part 2)" »

Manchester International Festival 2021 (part 1)

[THE SOUND OF TRYING TO FIND SOME DECENT PICTURE CAPTIONS]As we walk out of our central Manchester hotel on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, we see a plane flying overhead. It’s pulling a banner behind it. Because of the sun and the altitude, we can’t see what it says. This is a much bigger problem for us than you might think.

Less than an hour earlier, The Belated Birthday Girl and I had arrived in the city, all set for an extended run of the 2021 Manchester International Festival. Regular readers will recall our coverage of previous festivals – we paid a flying visit to the first one in 2007, had a good excuse for missing the second in 2009, then covered the next four for Europe’s Best Website (see 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017) before bringing it back in-house for 2019. All six of those visits had one thing in common – they only lasted a weekend, with us arriving late on Friday or early on Saturday, and on the train back to London by Sunday evening.

That’s how it usually works. This isn’t a usual year, though. With our planned foreign holiday kicked down the line for another year, we’re replacing it with a collection of short city breaks that don’t require us to leave the country. So this time around, we’ve spending a full five days (Wednesday to Sunday) at the Festival, although taking things at a slightly less manic pace than usual. The festival itself is an appreciably different shape to what it is normally – new outdoor and indoor venues to cope with social distancing requirements, a high proportion of online and hybrid content, a bit more public art than before – and so we’re going to be an appreciably different shape too. (Literally so, given some of the meals we’ve got lined up in the extended gaps between events.)

That plane I mentioned three paragraphs back is part of one of those public art projects I mentioned one paragraph back. It’ll all make sense in the end, probably – though bear in mind that this is a big enough festival to justify a two-part review, so scrolling to the end of the page won’t entirely help you.

Continue reading "Manchester International Festival 2021 (part 1)" »

The Devil Set My Takkies On Fire: Pick Of The Year 2020

noun, informal, South African
plural noun: takkies
1. a rubber-soled canvas sports shoe.
2. a tyre.

Hopefully that clears that one up. (Although it's possible it might be trackies - I tried asking one of the songwriters on Twitter, but never heard back. Still, the newly topical cover photo works either way.)

Anyhoo, merry Christmas, such as it is. It looks like we've got ourselves a tradition now, as 2020 is the third year in a row that my Pick Of The Year compilation has dropped on Christmas Day. But what does my 39th POTY look like at the end of the most messed up year in living memory? Well, it's a lot more insular - no travelling means no foreign language songs, and the only nations represented are the British Isles and America (I'm choosing to assume Nick Cave is ours now). Emotionally, it's even more of a see-saw than usual, with a mixture of the happy, the sad, the angry and the topical (with those last two categories overlapping somewhat).

As ever, it's all yours to hear right now in both video and Spotify formats. And also as ever, at the end of this piece we have a competition (closing date January 31st 2021) to win a CD of The Devil Set My Takkies On Fire for yourself. Will it be Dave, or will it be not Dave? The answer is in your hands. (Particularly if you're Dave.) Anyway, here we go.

Continue reading "The Devil Set My Takkies On Fire: Pick Of The Year 2020" »