I agonised over the wisdom of posting a list like this. The drawbacks were of course very apparent – I open myself to accusations of whimsy or elitism with some of my choices, or I miss out something I really liked and realise too late. However, since 2010 is the year I’ve purchased more music than for any in the preceding decade, it feels important to mark the occasion. I’ve tried to list things I’ve listened to most – because that seems like a fair test of how much impact they’ve made. This does of course miss the acts which have released less music this year but have been very much on my list – honourable mentions to White Heath and French Wives for instance. Also, there are many others just outside the top twenty who I’d love to have included – but there have to be some self-imposed rules or these things would never work.
I make absolutely no apology that this list is largely of Scottish musicians. I’ve spend an inordinate amount of the last year north of the border on a variety of trips and missions, and this has left it’s mark. Also, there is a genuinely supportive network of musicians in Scotland who, as one starts to explore, suggest and link to countless others. That this sprawling and sometimes incestuous network functions on a genuinely human scale is amazing and inspiring to me. Before I knew it, my old preferences for things Scottish had reawakened with a whole host of new talent. There are of course some remarkable artists from elsewhere around the world on the list. There is also an equally impressive network of Scottish blogs which serve this diverse scene – including Peenko, Aye Tunes and the truly inspiring Glasgow PodcART – all of which nurture and promote talent with fervour and humour.
I also make no apology about the downbeat, often acoustic bent of this selection. It’s the kind of year it’s been – and while there have been some fantastic releases by louder or more electronic acts, they’ve just not achieved the place in my heart that these have.
So, here then are the things which have inspired, delighted and consoled me during the year. Wherever possible, I’ve tried to link them to a place where you can hear the music almost straight away and completely for free. This has sometimes meant using bands’ Myspace pages – which are now rendered pretty horrible by the new platform, but at least allow access to the music. I hope there’s something in here which others find equally entrancing…
- Meursault – All Creatures Will Make Merry
- Admiral Fallow – Boots Met My Face
- Burnt Island – Music and Maths EP
- Kid Canaveral – Shouting at Wildlife
- Randolph’s Leap – Battleships and Kettle Chips EP
- Timber Timbre – Timber Timbre
- eagleowl – Into the Fold EP
- Yusuf Azak – Turn On The Long Wire
- Thirty Pounds of Bone – Method
- The Scottish Enlightenment – St. Thomas
- Esperi – Made For Life/Snowman
- And So I Watch You From Afar – The Letters EP
- The Unwinding Hours – The Unwinding Hours
- I Build Collapsible Mountains – A Month of Lost Memories
- Endor – Endor
- The Last Battle – Heart of the Land, Soul of the Sea
- Maple Leaves – Golden Ether EP
- The Savings and Loan – Today I Need Light
- Thous and Thees – Last Recordings EP
- Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou – Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou
It was something like six years between my first two Belle and Sebastian shows, and on the cold bus ride to Bristol tonight I calculated it was something like four years since I’d last seen them. Across the numerous performances in between my first desperate dash to London and last time, at the same venue as this evening, they’ve variously sparkled and plain sucked. Tonight, quite a bit felt like it had changed – I was struggling up to Bristol from the new office in Clevedon for starters, and a cold and strange journey it was too – not really knowing where I was, which was an unusual experience for me. The bonus was to be dropped directly outside the Colston Hall – it’s new spacious entrance building full of city types enjoying jazz and cocktails. Once inside, despite a bit of a refit it was essentially the same municipal concert hall it had always been. Found a seat in the corner and settled in for the support act Daniel Kitson and Gavin Osborn. I’d been prepared to be unhappy with this – a story teller and a singer performing together sounded a little bit too staged and corny for starters. What I wasn’t prepared for was the razor sharp delivery and witty, clever prose which Kitson provided. Gavin Osborn’s songs worked too – not just illustrating or adding colour to the story, but moving on the narrative. This allowed a fairly complex story to be told with genuine pace and humour. Kitson looked like Allen Ginsberg but oddly sounded like Dave Gorman, whilst Obsorn’s gently folky voice and guitar were ideally suited to the format. The audience who bothered to wander in were in parts, utterly delighted by the whole performance, as was I. A great choice of support act.
So, with the lights up, and disappointingly the tradition of girls selling ice cream now dispensed with here, I surveyed the audience. They were a mixed bunch – a fair number older folks like myself, who’d probably grown up with the band and were genuinely eager to see their old heroes once again. Mixed in were a larger group of younger people – far too cool for their own good, they kept their scarves on indoors and posed, hands on angled hips whilst chatting and guffawing about tuition fees and tweeting casually on their ‘phones. I was of course tapping away on mine too – answering work emails – I have clearly aged a lot in the last four years.
So, Belle and Sebastian took to the stage in their usual ramshackle way. A full string section again added to the sound, and seemed to bode well for the evening – except that they were largely inaudible amongst the flabby sound. Somewhere in the first few songs, a shift in the balance seemed to have occurred… Always by far the most conciously ‘cool’ member of the band, Stevie Jackson seemed to be stepping forward to lead the proceedings. This left a slightly sick and rather subdued Stuart to verbally spar with him and not managing much in the way of engagement with the audience. Luckily, the recent record didn’t get too much of an airing, with only the strongest few songs making an appearance – “I Didn’t See It Coming” and “I Want The World To Stop” retaining their glamour, whilst “Write About Love” sunk without trace – all too easy and not at all convincing. This betrayed the strange set of song choices in the set. With a now extensive back catalogue to plunder, a good few oddities were unearthed to varying effect. Luckily this archaeological dig also provided some highlights including “Dog on Wheels” and “The Stars of Track and Field”.
As the long and rather slow set dragged into it’s final stages, I found myself getting frustrated with the band. This group of people have inspired such genuine admiration in me and many thousands of others over the years, but seemed to coasting. It was of course, the end of a very long tour. It was also clear that many of them weren’t feeling great. Only Stevie, ever professional but strangely turning into Bob Dylan circa 1966 with his wild curly hair, managed to retain any of the geeky and shy star quality which this bunch usually exude. After a disappointly rushed and subdued “If You Find Yourself Caught In Love” – which had been so fantastic here last time – the band managed a pretty decent take on “Sleep The Clock Around” before disappearing from the stage. As they shuffled wearily back to kick off an encore with “Judy and The Dream of Horses” I shuffled away too, to catch the train home earlier than I needed to. It’s hard to tell if I’ve grown out of Belle and Sebastian or whether, tonight at least, they’ve just stopped caring themselves. This was patently the least impressive they’ve been since the achingly shy and quiet Shepherd’s Bush Empire gig. I felt weary and old heading home, and rather like I’d had a silly argument about nothing with an old friend. Lets hope we can make up sometime soon?