For more about 2269, here’s their site
This could be the most boring blog post I’ve ever written. I thought I’d get that out of the way first thing. I’m not going to shy away from the boredom: I’m going to enjoy it. Nay, I’m going to revel in it. Bask in the banality, magnify the mundane. Strap yourselves in, dear readers, it’s going to be one hell of a dull ride.
There’s a reason for all this (thank Christ for that, I hear you sigh). You know that thing, when you’re using a certain program or website, and something odd happens? Something goes wrong. You hit a brick wall, and suddenly don’t know how to proceed. What do you do? Google search, of course. 99% of the time, you find a multitude of posts from other users, detailing the exact same problem, hopefully also illustrating a handy solution. Sometimes the solution comes from the program or site developer themselves, sometimes from a handy boffin. You rarely care. You just want your problem fixed. Nine times out of ten, it’s a bingo. One time out of ten: it’s a fail. But at the very least, you realise there are others out there who feel your pain and share your new belief that the program or site has a glaring error or limitation that – with any luck – the developer might fix, one day.
HOWEVER. A few weeks ago I discovered a problem that has seemingly gone unnoticed. Or maybe, as was suggested by my friend (let’s call him Mike – that is, after all, his name), it has been noticed, but I’m the only person who gives a fuck. Either way, there exists no helpful post on my subject anywhere on the interweb, much less a helpful solution. So I’m writing, I’m pretty certain, on virgin territory here. Not that I’m going to offer much of a fix. Pointless, you might think, and you’d have a point. If you want to stop reading now, I totally get it. You’ll certainly have much better things to do. But if you haven’t, read on.
You see, a month or so ago I transferred one of the podcasts I edit onto the American host Buzzsprout. Mike had recommended Buzzsprout to me, and to be completely fair, all the good things he’d told me about turned out to be (and continue to be) true: it’s user friendly, it makes it easy to plop your podcast on all the various listening platforms, it’s reliable, it’s got a decent social media player, the customer service is quick and friendly and there’s certainly no shortage of helpful FAQs and support posts on their site, not to mention newsletters and much informed, jolly communication. Indeed, helped by my general busy-ness and the fact that I’d just started using a new and unfamiliar model of headphones, I didn’t notice anything was amiss for around three weeks, instead basking in a general Buzzsprout honeymoon, oblivious to the strange thing that had been happening to all my precious, hard-worked-on audio.
At first I just thought my mixes were a bit whack. For various lockdown-related reasons I’m putting this show together largely from a bunch of iPhone recordings, so I’ve had to dive into the EQ pretty hard, and I’m quite used to episodes sounding a little different on the web to how they do playing straight from Logic. But this was something else. It sounded narrow, dull, flat. Not a crapness you’d necessarily notice playing out of laptop speakers or a little Bluetooth job, but on headphones it sounded boxy and, quite literally, monotonous. When I reached a section of the programme where I’d panned the two interlocutors quite nicely to left and right so the conversation would sound like, y’know, a real conversation, it finally hit me: is this sucker in mono?
A few quick tests proved that this was definitely the case. Swiftly I searched the Buzzsprout backend looking for a little box I’d forgotten to tick (“Is this 1965? No? Click here for stereo”), but to no avail. At this point, I performed the Google search I alluded to way back in paragraph two. (“Why is my Buzzsprout podcast in mono”, “Buzzsprout not in stereo”, “Buzzsprout, Mono, WTF” etc.) I did not find what I was expecting. What was I expecting? Forums, baby, forums. Some irate tech-head in Nottingham or Portland saying “Why the hell does Buzzsprout convert your files to mono?” along with either a quick fix (“Go to options/audio/mono and make sure the ‘convert my files to mono and make my episode sound like shit’ box is unchecked”) or a volley of sympathetic replies (“I know, right? It’s totally stupid”). All I found was a few links to the Buzzsprout techie pages, of which more below, and a few calm reviews, in which the file conversion was discussed only in the most general terms. Nowhere did I find anyone getting to the very crux of what I thought (and still think) is the most insane of actions: that the Buzzsprout processor is taking a stereo audio file and changing it to mono without telling anyone?
Because yes, Buzzsprout are not telling anyone. Which brings me to their techie pages. The top hit on my Google search was this page, which concerns an additional feature that I’d bumped into on the Buzzsprout backend but had happily dismissed as of no use to me: “Magic Mastering”, with which, for an admittedly not bank-breaking sum of $6 per month, a podcaster may have one’s episodes put through what Buzzsprout describe as an “Instagram filter for your audio”. Fair enough, I’d thought, but I don’t really need that. Anyway, now it popped up on my “Mono WTF?” search, I dutifully read the piece.
Let’s cut to the chase. Nowhere on this page is there a nice, clear statement like “All podcasts will be uploaded in mono. For stereo, use Magic Mastering.” The closest we get is: “Your episode will sound crisp, clear, well balanced” (italics mine) and some other rather oblique discussions of the benefits of mono or stereo encoding with Magic Mastering enabled, but nothing that clearly states your podcast will definitely be in mono if Magic Mastering is not enabled.
Consequently, I was still confused. I figured must be missing something. Surely? Why on earth would a podcast host in 2020 choose mono as a default? What is this, AM radio? So I returned to the Buzzsprout page with all the pricing plans. Much discussion of storage, permitted numbers of team members, uploading additional content and so forth, with each plan sporting the option of adding Magic Mastering. Needless to say, no little red flag saying, “p.s. everything is in mono”. So I messaged customer support.
Quickly (their customer support really is very responsive), I received this reply:
But, I replied. But But But. That effectively means I’d be uploading a stereo file, and paying $6 per month for it to remain in stereo. Nothing more. That doesn’t make any sense. Does it?
My correspondent admitted that this was indeed so, adding that:
Really? We don’t need stereo? Sorry, but I listen to podcasts all the time. I have about four regular shows that I follow religiously, along with plenty of occasionals. All are in stereo. You can tell. Podcast editors love to pan sounds around, piss about, have some fun. Often it’s the time we get to be creative. Only very rarely do I hear a (usually current affairs) programme during which it strikes me that, oh yeah, this one’s kinda lo-fi. Nor am I aware of any other podcast host that offers mono as a default. My previous host – indeed, it’s still my current host for a different podcast that I run – certainly uploads in stereo. It’s never been an issue. Whether it’s in stereo or not simply hasn’t occurred to me in years. That’s partly why I was so flabbergasted.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with offering mono as an entry-level default – nothing much, anyway. I guess it’s a space-saving thing. Maybe the world is finally running out of servers. But what I object to is Buzzsprout being so underhand about it. If they said on their information page “all pricing plans offer mono uploading; for stereo, use Magic Mastering” – I would still have gone for Buzzsprout, as everything else about them is very good. I would have shrugged and thought, “Hey, $6 per month is a little silly, but whatever.” What I wouldn’t have done is wasted an entire evening wondering firstly what the fuck was wrong with my mix, then pissing around trying to find forums, decipher the Buzzsprout FAQs, emailing the customer support and so forth, then finally calling my producer and asking if we could spare another seventy bucks per year as, duh, I hadn’t yet noticed everything was in bloody mono.
I said all this, very politely, to the nice chatty customer service person. I asked them to forward my message to whoever wrote their blurb, urging them to come clean. At the very least, I said, it would waste a little less of people’s time. “Hey Tim!” came the endlessly sunny reply. “No problem! I will definitely pass that information along to the team!”
Call me a weary old cynic, but my very next thought was “yeah. RIGHT.”
For our thirteenth episode, myself and Chris Sheldon have a technologically-assisted chat with Garbage and Fink producer/engineer/mixer Billy Bush, stalwart of the Los Angeles recording scene, about his unconventional entry into the studio world and how he’s managed to keep working on the projects that interest him.
You can also listen to this podcast on
Original GC logo by Dawn Kelly.
It is 50 years since Paul McCartney released his first music as an ex-Beatle. To mark the occasion, I sat down with one of the world’s undersung McCartney experts, Dr. Nick Coates*, to compile the ultimate, ranked list of Macca’s fifty best post-Beatle songs.
Like all of these lists, there’s a hefty amount of arbitrary ordering going on – is #35 really better than #38, for example? Probably not, but we did make an effort to consider as many aspects of each song as possible – lyrics, melody, instrumentation, how successful it was (difficult to ignore) and whether or not there was a decent story behind it – but we also tried to not take the whole thing too seriously. It is McCartney, after all.
*Nick didn’t attain his PhD in the work of McCartney, but perhaps he should have.
N.B. We said “songs” – i.e. they’re all written by, but not necessarily performed by Paul McCartney.
- Dance Tonight – Paul McCartney (2007)
McCartney explained that his toddler daughter began to dance whenever he played the mandolin, and from there “the song wrote itself”. A satisfying stomp that provided McCartney with his last, to date, solo UK top 40 single.
- We All Stand Together – Paul McCartney and the Frog Chorus (1984)
Nowadays usually proffered as an example of the depths to which the ubiquitous McCartney plunged in the mid-1980s, few rock stars could have created something this irritatingly infectious, scored a top three hit, and still (eventually) reclaimed their credibility.
- Beautiful Night – Paul McCartney (1997)
It has its teeth-grinding moments, but as a celebration of both friendship and love – Ringo is on drums, and it was one of the last songs to which Linda McCartney contributed – this capable ballad turned rockout is inescapably likeable.
- My Love – Paul McCartney and Wings (1973)
In its sweeping romanticism, could this love song betray the influence of George Harrison’s classic Something? Similarities are hard to miss, not least Henry McCullough’s inspired guitar solo, easily matching Harrison’s.
- Wonderful Christmastime – Paul McCartney (1979)
The melody is anodyne and the synths irritating, but Christmas as we know it probably wouldn’t be Christmas without it. It’s been said Macca earns a cool £300k from this song each year: simply put, you can’t knock the hustle.
- C-Moon – Wings (1972)
Even in McCartney’s flippant moments he’s capable of harmonic tricks lesser songwriters would kill for. In this cod-reggae ditty’s case it’s the bridging sections, lending the piece a dreamy gracefulness that the choruses probably don’t deserve.
- Queenie Eye – Paul McCartney (2013)
McCartney dug out a children’s chant and a few covert Beatles references (“I had to get it worked out, had nobody who could help”) for this bouncy number written with producer du jour Paul Epworth. The video, featuring a bewildering parade of celebrities, could be avoided.
- With A Little Luck – Wings (1978)
A synth-laden jaunt that hits its stride in the minor-key bridges, recalling the “Life is very short” section of We Can Work It Out (John Lennon’s part, naturally). Otherwise, close your eyes and pretend it’s Boards Of Canada.
- Junior’s Farm – Paul McCartney and Wings (1974)
Wings often sounded best when recording as a full band; the energy this setup affords to Junior’s Farm propels it to something beyond the sum of its parts. In Jimmy McCulloch’s twin guitar motifs, the influence of Bowie’s Mick Ronson is conspicuous.
- The World Tonight – Paul McCartney (1997)
Perky Jeff Lynne collaboration from the well-regarded Flaming Pie album, the lyrics concern a young star not enjoying the spotlight, with McCartney clearly relishing his role of experienced elder: “I go back so far, I’m in front of me”.
- The Song We Were Singing – Paul McCartney (1997)
Energetic contemplation of early-days hangouts with Lennon. The waltz-time choruses, with their blend of accordion, double bass and thumping drums, reveal a fondness for The Waterboys.
- Another Day – Paul McCartney (1971)
At first, McCartney’s debut solo single sounds like a tame second act of the domestic story begun in She’s Leaving Home. But the “So sad” section betrays greater ambition: shifting rhythms, full-bodied guitar phrases and soaring vocal interplay between Linda and Paul, aiming for their own distinctive, post-Beatles sound.
- Wanderlust – Paul McCartney (1982)
McCartney might be justifying something fairly mundane on this stately ballad – opting for home life rather than perpetually touring the world – but the power of the melody lifts it well above the banal. One can even forgive the horn section.
- Little Willow – Paul McCartney (1997)
Written following the death of Ringo Starr’s first wife Maureen, with their children in mind, Little Willow’s meditative melody is thankfully garnished with nothing more than tasteful synths and reflective harmonies.
- Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five – Paul McCartney and Wings (1974)
Yes, there are vocals. But really, it’s all about that piano riff, like the Lady Madonna phrase twisted into the insistent soundtrack of a TV car chase. A 2016 remix by Timo Maas and James Teej received a Grammy nomination.
- This Never Happened Before – Paul McCartney (2005)
At least McCartney’s brief marriage to Heather Mills inspired him to write this fine love song, with a lilting melody worthy of Here, There and Everywhere. But there’s an unavoidable note of melancholy in Paul’s voice, as if he never quite believed it all along.
- Early Days – Paul McCartney (2013)
Producer Ethan Johns was the perfect choice for this earthy rumination on the embryonic Beatles, with depictions of long Liverpool walks, plus sly digs at those who believe they know the facts better (“I don’t see how they can remember, when they weren’t where it was at”).
- Mull of Kintyre – Wings (1977)
McCartney always wanted to bring the nation together in song, and with Mull of Kintyre, he did it: until Band Aid in 1984, this was the UK’s best-selling single. It’s easy to see why: a tune both a granny and a toddler could sing, and bagpipes to stir even the meanest of hearts. But in the peak year of punk, McCartney was about as far from the thrills of rock’n’roll as he’d ever get.
- Put It There – Paul McCartney (1989)
A masterclass in not letting a song outstay its welcome, Put It There turns the Blackbird template of foot-tapping and finger-picking into a sweet, string-accompanied rumination on McCartney’s father and one of his favourite sayings.
- Pipes Of Peace – Paul McCartney (1983)
As with Ebony and Ivory, hearing this song today prompts mixed feelings: the temptation to cringe is offset by bafflement that we still, some thirty-six years later, haven’t absorbed its basic message. Possibly the biggest ever hit single to feature a tabla solo.
- Take It Away – Paul McCartney (1982)
An overlooked pop nugget from the George Martin-produced Tug Of War album, although it’s perhaps a touch too complex for chart-topping status. The presence of McCartney’s new chum, 10cc’s Eric Stewart, is evident in the multi-layered backing vocals.
- Ram On – Percy “Thrills” Thrillington (1977)
Pragmatic as he is, McCartney’s still capable of taking the piss. Thrillington, an entirely instrumental, easy-listening version of his and Linda’s variously received 1971 album Ram, is arguably superior to its source material, particularly the title track: its lonely tones might have been the theme to an ITV drama along the lines of Van der Valk.
- Waterfalls – Paul McCartney (1980)
If it felt like McCartney were leaving the innovation to other artists during the 1970s, he made up for it on his second completely solo album, McCartney II. Waterfalls, with its plaintive synths and Rhodes piano, is eerily futuristic; one can hear its traces in the work of James Blake.
- Despite Repeated Warnings – Paul McCartney (2018)
It’s heartening to think that in his 76th year, McCartney could still bring out the spikes for politicians he believed were leading us to our doom. The barbs are shrouded in seafaring imagery on this A-Day-In-The-Life shaped epic: Trump himself is labelled a “mad captain”.
- Sing The Changes – The Fireman (2008)
The Fireman, an occasional project with Killing Joke bassist Youth, provided the answer to a question no one asked: “What if Paul McCartney sang for a 1980s goth-rock band?” A solid offering that could be slipped onto the turntable down the indie disco without too much disquiet.
- Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey – Paul and Linda McCartney (1971)
As a humorous takedown of the stuffy ruling class that the sixties were supposed to have banished, this blast of whimsy might be best aired between a Peter Sellers record and an episode of Monty Python. Inexplicably, it managed to hit number one in the USA, which probably says more about the prevailing Beatles hysteria than anything else.
- Ebony and Ivory – Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder (1982)
The melodies can be exasperating and the politics simplistic, yet there’s something endearing about Ebony and Ivory: decent performances from both vocalists, and it’s hard to find fault with a line like “We learn to live when we learn to give each other what we need to survive”. Also, the song’s ban by the Apartheid-era South African Broadcasting Corporation is something of a badge of honour.
- Calico Skies – Paul McCartney (1997)
Occasionally McCartney writes a song that sounds like it could have sprung from the same writing session as Mother Nature’s Son or even Blackbird. This gem, written during a hurricane power cut at McCartney’s Long Island home, hints at gentle tones of protest along early Joan Baez lines.
- Too Many People – Paul and Linda McCartney (1971)
John and Paul’s feud era made for some great pop songs, like this little blast of vitriol. Perhaps intentionally, McCartney sounds more like Lennon than ever on the verses, and are those the chords to Dear Prudence in the bridge? This track also introduced the world to the dubious concept of a “piss-off cake”.
- Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me) – Paul McCartney and Wings (1974)
Challenged by Dustin Hoffman over dinner to instantly “write a song about anything”, McCartney banged out this tongue-in-cheek drinking song based on Pablo Picasso’s actual last words. Its pleasantly rambling nature mainly reveals the high old time Wings undoubtedly had at Ginger Baker’s Lagos recording studio, where Baker himself added percussion to the track (a tin can full of gravel).
- No More Lonely Nights – Paul McCartney (1984)
McCartney’s feature film Give My Regards To Broad Street has but one redeeming feature: this power ballad. A masterclass melody and even a searing Dave Gilmour guitar solo, this was proof that Macca – deep into his “Frog Song” period – could still perform the old alchemy.
- Junk – Paul McCartney (1970)
The Beatles declining to include Junk on any of their own albums speaks volumes about the nuances of their own internal editing process; the inflections of the chorus are plainly more McCartney than anyone else. Also noteworthy are Linda’s perfectly delivered harmonies.
- What’s That You’re Doing – Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder (1982)
Following Lennon’s death, it must have been a tonic to collaborate with a talent as compelling as Wonder on this cracking duet. Macca holds his own in the funky sections and, no doubt, arranged the soaring backing vocals in the chorus, but it’s Wonder’s synths and fabulous voice that elevate the piece well above the routine.
- Check My Machine – Paul McCartney (1980)
A little-known B-side of an almost-as-little-known A-side (Waterfalls), this enjoyably discombobulating moment is perhaps the result of McCartney’s fondness for David Byrne. While its banjo and reggae groove nod to the past, the scratchy, effected vocal loop and samples foreshadow the likes of Gorillaz and even Flying Lotus.
- Songbird In A Cage – Charlotte Gainsbourg (2017)
When McCartney composes for other artists – Cilla Blacks’ Step Inside Love, for instance – he often follows a more complex path. Gainsbourg asked him to write her a song and received a demo in return, which she described as “like having a treasure”. With producer SebastiAN, she created an otherworldly slice of alt-disco from McCartney’s trippy words and melodies.
- Let Me Roll It – Paul McCartney and Wings (1974)
The chorus is pure Wings, but the verses see McCartney possessed by the instincts of both Lennon and Harrison: the tape-echo vocals, the brash guitar riffs. One of his signature rock tracks, it’s welded to McCartney’s live setlist to this day.
- Let ‘Em In – Billy Paul (1976)
Inspired by the mention of “Martin Luther [King]” in the original, Philadelphia soul singer Billy Paul took Wings’ lightweight head-nodder and converted it into a full-on anthem for the civil rights movement, complete with references to Louis Armstrong, JFK, and excerpts from Malcolm X speeches. McCartney responded by augmenting the song’s future live performances with video footage of same.
- Temporary Secretary – Paul McCartney (1980)
As Wings finally disintegrated, McCartney seemed mainly interested in sounding like anyone but himself, as on this invigorating blip of electropop. Underneath the synths, however, lies a fairly standard piece of Macca ephemera, with conventional instrumentation and a playful vocal in which lurk ghosts of Rocky Raccoon and Honey Pie.
- Goodnight Tonight – Wings (1979)
Few rock acts resisted the temptation to go disco in 1979, from Blondie’s Heart Of Glass to Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2). McCartney’s own attempt, despite flamenco guitar solo, never strayed too far from his specialities: insistent chorus and an insanely hummable bass-line. The video, with Paul and colleagues decked out in 1930s tango band costumes, is worth a chuckle.
- Fine Line – Paul McCartney (2005)
Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich notoriously dismissed all of McCartney’s backing band and any songs he didn’t think worthy of the 2005 album Chaos And Creation In The Backyard. This rocker, with its urgent chord progression and pounding piano, sailed through the auditions.
- Silly Love Songs – Wings (1976)
The famously genial Macca hasn’t been afraid to get spiky with criticisms over the years. Silly Love Songs sees him hitting back in the best way he knows: to write, record and have a massive hit with another one. The splendid revolving vocal section in the song’s closing quarter is less silly, as is the fantastic bass-line.
- Back Seat Of My Car – Paul and Linda McCartney (1971)
Opinions abound regarding McCartney’s first truly post-Beatles album Ram, but this ode to various forms of escape, elevated by one of McCartney’s sweetest vocal melodies, is usually judged the highlight. The line “We believe that we can’t be wrong” evokes genuine yearning.
- Here Today – Paul McCartney (1982)
This moving tribute to John Lennon could be about any lost old friend; that it concerns McCartney’s celebrated musical partner is almost immaterial. It pinpoints perhaps the one moment in their friendship when – drunk, unsurprisingly – the pair admitted the love they felt for one another “because there wasn’t any reason left to keep it all inside”.
- Band On The Run – Paul McCartney and Wings (1974)
McCartney adores his medleys: this three-part track coheres around an intoxicatingly shady atmosphere – indeed, a band of escaped criminals – assisted by wails of analogue synth and bluesy guitar licks. The song’s most memorable line, “If we ever get out of here”, originates from a George Harrison comment about an Apple Records business meeting.
- Jenny Wren – McCartney (2005)
It wasn’t the first time McCartney used his classic Blackbird as the outline for an arrangement, but it might have been the first time a producer (Nigel Godrich) prevented him from slathering the track with frills. The beauty of the song, along with the soft thud of a floor tom and the reedy melancholy of an Armenian duduk, were deemed the sole requirements.
- Jet – Paul McCartney and Wings (1974)
Three years and several singles in, Wings were now sounding like themselves. After an unapologetic saxophone-led reggae intro, the song transforms into a bracing blast of fuzz guitar and surreal lyrics, at once concerning a Labrador puppy and McCartney’s stern father-in-law.
- Say Say Say – Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson (1983)
This dazzling pop-soul duet was based on a tried and tested formula: McCartney sings the calmer, more melodic sections, while his partner infuses the piece with a fiery exasperation. What emerged was one of those rare, effortless hit songs on which all involved – particularly producer George Martin – were allowed to shine.
- Coming Up – Paul McCartney (1980)
Latterly adopted as the Macca track of choice by the LCD Soundsystem set, Coming Up had always been one of his strongest: a rare example of McCartney hitting a good groove and staying there, letting other sounds – percussion, synths and vocal motifs – wander in and out as required. Its charms were not lost on John Lennon, who allegedly resolved to finally return to the recording studio after hearing it.
2. Maybe I’m Amazed – Paul McCartney (1970)
If observers of McCartney’s early solo efforts were preoccupied with the question “is it as good as The Beatles?” then it’s unsurprising that the triumphs lay in songs that transcended his former group, at least in terms of scale and soul-bearing. Written for Linda in the Beatles’ final weeks, if not days, Maybe I’m Amazed is essentially cut from the same sonic cloth as Let It Be, but the desperate words (“Maybe you’re the only woman who can ever help me”) and singlehanded recording permitted McCartney to access hitherto rationed reserves of passion. The joyful walls of organ and screaming vocals remain breathtaking to behold, fifty years later.
- Live and Let Die – Wings (1973)
Despite his celebrity and track record, the producers of the James Bond series took a chance when they asked McCartney to come up with a theme song for Live and Let Die. The film was to feature the first John Barry-less soundtrack since Dr. No, not to mention Roger Moore’s debut in the title role, so the stakes couldn’t have been higher. But hell, did McCartney deliver. Written with Linda and steered by the safe hands of George Martin, it somehow managed to squeeze three disparate styles – piano ballad, orchestral rock and reggae – into barely three minutes, and still sound like a naturally unified pop song. Much like the movie it accompanies, it’s thrilling, absurd and incredibly appealing: one of a handful of post-Beatles songs on which McCartney excels at everything he tries. Just don’t mention that Guns N’ Roses version.
i.e. My cousin Chris Sheldon and I met and interviewed legendary rock producer/mixer TIM PALMER (The Mission, Pearl Jam, Tin Machine, Robert Plant, Ozzy, Texas, Psychedelic Furs, etc) for our Game Changing Podcast. Even though I say it myself, it’s one of our best episodes. Have a listen now!
Here’s a cheeky sneak preview…
What can I say about producer Stephen Street? Apart from him being the latest guest on our Game Changing podcast, that is. It didn’t fully hit me until I was making the Spotify playlist of some of his best tracks, when I realised I could’ve easily made it 100 songs long. To paraphrase LCD Soundsystem: he was there. He was at the controls when Johnny Marr strummed the opening riff to “Bigmouth Strikes Again” and when Morrissey sang “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”. He was there when Graham Coxon played the stratospheric guitar solo on “This Is A Low”, when Damon first shouted “Parklife!”, when Dolores roared the chorus to The Cranberries’ “Zombie” and when the Kaisers yelled “Oh My God”. He’s one of the most prolific British producers of the last 40 years, and he sat down with Chris and me to tell us how he did it. Take a listen now, in the usual places!
EPISODE 4 – GIL NORTON – November 2019
“The way someone like Dave Grohl plays the acoustic guitar… you get a sense of why that song exists.” Gil Norton’s journey from minding the 8-track tape machine in Liverpool to producing global smash-hit albums for Foo Fighters and Counting Crows, not to mention classic records by the likes of Feeder, Throwing Muses, Terrorvision, Jimmy Eat World and Twin Atlantic, has been one of rock production’s most stellar success stories. Chris sat down with his friend and colleague to get to the bottom of what makes Gil such a sought-after producer, including his focus on pre-production, commitment to the power of the song, and the experience of making perhaps his most influential album, the Pixies’ Doolittle.
Logo design by Dawn Kelly, Additional commentary by Bertie the dog.
EPISODE 3 – THIS IS THE KIT – November 2019
“There should never be a barrier between making music and not making music.” For the last ten or so years, the words This Is The Kit have meant the inspirational songwriting, rewarding albums and endlessly listenable vocals of Kate Stables. Together with bassist Rozi Plain, Kate sat down to talk to Tim in the summer of 2019, a few days after a great Glastonbury performance. They discussed gigging, recording, writing and the burning question of which other countries they might like to hail from, if not from the UK. Contains one very small swear word (entirely Tim’s fault).
EPISODE 2 – FLOOD – November 2019
“U2 came out of nowhere. I thought someone was taking the piss.” Flood has been a legend in the world of music producing for the best part of thirty years. Having presided over some of the alternative rock scene’s most dynamic and groundbreaking acts – Warpaint, Smashing Pumpkins, PJ Harvey, Soulwax, Nine Inch Nails – he sat down with Chris and Tim to talk about some of the pivotal moments in his illustrious career.
Here’s our Spotify playlist of some of Flood’s best work, plus some other songs we talked about.
EPISODE 1 – FIELD MUSIC – October 2019
“If Paul and John can be in the same band, then me and you can be the same band” – Dave Brewis. This episode of Game Changing features a conversation between Tim and Sunderland-based band Field Music.
Brothers Peter and David Brewis have been trading under the name Field Music since 2005, when they released their debut, eponymous album for Memphis Industries. Since then they’ve released five full studio LPs, including 2012’s Plumb, which was nominated for a Mercury Prize. In 2018 the band were commissioned by the Imperial War Museum to make a sound and light show to commemorate some aspects of the end of the First World War; this project formed the basis of their upcoming 2020 album Making A New World.
Late last year my cousin, producer Chris Sheldon, and I were chatting about starting a podcast. Next thing I knew, I was driving up to Sunderland with a dictaphone to chat to Field Music for the first episode of the show – which we’ve just launched!
The podcast is called GAME CHANGING, and the aim has been to speak to our favourite musicians and producers about those key moments in their careers when things changed, and why. If you like getting into the nitty-gritty of how songs and albums are put together, give it a listen – and big thanks to the Field Music boys for being the first guests.
(Coming soon: Chris and myself speak to Flood, I speak to This Is The Kit… and more…)
Hear the podcast on Soundcloud:
Game Changing logo by Dawn Kelly
The latest Fink album is a thunderous beast. Fin and Flood have achieved what they set out to do: to create a bracingly coherent work, and it’s been, as ever, a pleasure to be involved.
BLOOM INNOCENT is a string-laden slice of sunshine featuring some of Fin’s best vox and Guy and myself grooving heroically. WE WATCH THE STARS in an intergalactic trip, boosted by strings/piano/guitar maestro Tomer Moked and the awesome drums of Nicky Hustinx. ONCE YOU GET A TASTE is a chocolatey piece of songwriting, shades of Beck and Bill Withers. OUT LOUD has some of the best lyrics Fin’s ever penned and an urgency worthy of This Is The Thing. THAT’S HOW I SEE YOU NOW is a bleak slab of tortured rock. I JUST WANT A YES is the sound of a musical universe collapsing in on itself. ROCKING CHAIR is a swampy gem and MY LOVE’S ALREADY THERE is a bittersweet ballad, a haunting moment to finish.
All in all, a thrilling addition to the Fink canon. Buy it and put it on and turn it up.
When you’re old and you go to festivals, you begin to care about different things. You think about access to toilets and the time it takes to walk between stages. You notice the quality of the beer and the crowd bottlenecks. And you also care about personalities of performers, rather than how breathtakingly fast and loud everything gets played, and is it a decent and packed-enough audience to crowd surf?
Visions Festival, set in and around the trendy post-industrial warehouses and wastelands of South Hackney, has clearly thought all this through rather well. Venues are interesting and appropriately sized; they’re spread out, but no further apart than you’d get at rural equivalents (and there’s a Sainsbury’s Local on the way from one big stage to another – yay). Beer selections are imaginative, security are friendly and – best and surely most important of all – the music selection is varied and of a very high standard. Some of the acts suffer a bit from what we used to call, back in the mid-1800s, “Shoreditch cool”, but they usually make up for it by cranking out crunchy and full-bodied riffs and beats. Visions – at which I didn’t see an acoustic guitar all day – is not a festival graced by whimpering singer-songwriters, and thank the Lord for that.
Speaking of “Shoreditch cool”, the first act I see, at the pleasant wooden hovel of the London Fields Brewery, is Maria Somerville, and I’m happy to report that shoegazing is well and truly BACK. She presents some marvellously languid, but still somehow banging, noise-guitar and electronica, not a million miles from what a collab between My Bloody Valentine and I Break Horses might sound like. She also behaves as if she isn’t conscious of whether anyone’s watching or not, let alone if she should try performing to them. It’s like trying to get served at the Spitz restaurant in 2001, as those over the age of 35 might remember. Luckily, her indifferent style mixes seamlessly with the gloriously unconventional sound she makes, and I come away elated at the welcome absence of a vocal harmoniser or autotuner.
Black Country, New Road provide my introduction to the underground Hangar venue and, most importantly, the unofficial star of the show: the door at the back of the stage. When I say “back of the stage”, I mean literally: the middle of the back of the stage, and when you consider how dark the Hangar space is, and how bright it is on the other side of the door, you might begin to spot the problem. If the door opens once at the beginning of the set (for the band to come on) and again at the end (reasonably enough, for the band to leave), that would be one thing. Sadly, during the performance of Black Country, New Road (or BCNR to their mates) there are dreaded technical issues, so the damn thing keeps opening and shutting throughout as panicking techies race to fetch new mics, cables or whatever it is. I’m not sure whether I’m the only person in the room to find this hilarious. I’m pretty sure none of BCNR do. That said, it’s difficult to tell, such is the stern intensity with which the septet play their music. And their music, fortunately, is pretty startling. Poetry and bizarre time signatures mixed with post-punk guitar shapes, broken-up Gang Of Four basslines and the twin masterstrokes of saxophone and violin, ensuring that nothing you’re hearing you’ve heard before. Influence-wise, I’m picking up dEUS, The Fall, Tom Waits, I’m even getting a whiff of the more discordant end of Arcade Fire. Thrilling and compelling, BCNR sadly seemed – to my eyes at least – under the impression that the show itself was a technical disaster, and on stage it may have been. We in the crowd loved it, though. But Visions – get a backdrop or something next year so we can’t see that damned door!
After that, I power through a quickfire parade of different acts on various stages: the cool nordic soul-pop of Otta, the jazzy flaves of Steam Down, the energetic desert rock of Imarhan and the bonkers reference-fest that is Lazarus Kane. All accomplished, all tuneful and mostly providing groovy rhythms to bounce the afternoon along, but it’s interesting that the most memorable acts clearly give thought to stagecraft and how best to present their personalities. As such, Lazarus Kane sticks in the mind, creating a cheesy character for himself, his band members also picking roles, from the Dexy’s Midnight Runner chap, to the blonde pop kid, to the Miami Vice dude. Who knows what the songs were about, but they were so cheap and cheerful (in a good way) that they made Electric Six sound like Radiohead.
Running low on personality is something Anna Meredith will never be in danger of. Quite apart from her avalanche of ideas, beats and melodies that torrent from the ample Oval Space stage, Meredith herself also donates between-song banter that betrays a witty charisma, instantly filling the vast hall with unstoppable smiles and good vibes. But the music commands the most attention, as well it should; there are very few people for whom the word “unique” isn’t a lazy exaggeration, but Meredith’s blend of electronica, classical and indie really does prove that eclecticism, in the right hands, is an effervescent delight. It’s been some three years since I first heard her music but I haven’t seen her play before tonight: happy surprises include her band being stuffed with musicians who appear to care every bit as much about the music as she does, and also that they all sing. In uber-cool post-industrial Hackney it’s a treat to see people who quite obviously have no interest in the traditional hipster values of nonchalance and aloof reserve; by the end of Meredith’s set, all inhabitants of the Oval Space have well and truly forgotten any self-image they might have had, roaring out the guitar lines and nodding heads so vigorously to the pounding beats that I might have to go and see the osteopath on Monday.
After a brief debate, we next decide on the Sebright Arms and Wooze. Amusingly, the band’s inert mascots – two brightly dressed, life-sized papier-mâché millennial dolls slouched in a couple of chairs – are holding court on the stage as we enter the tiny basement venue, and as the band’s stage time comes and goes I worry that this is actually all we’re going to get. Thankfully after ten minutes the colourful trio amble on, and prove themselves surprisingly giving as performers, rocking out and bouncing up and down as they present their strangely infectious brand of bubblegum glam-pop. Twin vocals slide out from the direction of the drummer and the guitarist, as anthemic as MGMT and as ironic as LCD; at least, that’s what I suspect, as my usual talent of completely mishearing live lyrics is holding up fine.
Back at the Hangar Stage, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs remind me of that line we used to trot out about The Jesus and Mary Chain: they only do one thing, but they do it bloody well. In the Pigs’ case it’s a brand of Sabbath-influenced doom rock that capably manages to sound like it’s being played in a vast stadium (probably somewhere in Germany or South America). Think Bleach-era Nirvana but produced by Andrew Eldritch. After a burst of pre-set banter that largely consists of the word “bowels”, the glittery-boxing-robe wrapped singer launches into his lurching, prowling, hollering routine, making you simultaneously wish you were watching them somewhere much bigger than the boxy Hangar stage, and glad you’re catching them somewhere this small before they scale up operations to arena level. That said, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs might have to find a few new tricks up their sleeves if that’s going to happen, and maybe the point and charm of them is: they shan’t. (Fans of the conspicuous door at the back of the Hangar stage will be disappointed to note that it only opens and shuts twice during the Pigs’ set. Next year I think the door should be given its own slot on the bill, and perhaps a small range of merch.)
Sadly we only catch about ten minutes of Demdike Stare before the plug is pulled, but they deliver filthy, itchy, syncopated beats and blasts of white electronic noise to a handful of diehards, happy to finally have some space to frug about a bit. Our pint is a bit stale but the night is young, and as we’re turfed out by the endlessly cheerful security staff, the glad-ragged London Fields millennials head off to the various afterparties and one gets the sense that the evening is just kicking off. For me, though, it’s a kebab and bed. Visions, you were an inspiring, curious and eager cacophony of brilliantly played noise. Until next year…
Conversations can continue on Twitter @timwthornton