Radiohead – OKNOTOK

Yes I keep this stuff!

As I get older I find that I look back at my life through different lenses and one of those lenses is music. The soundtrack to your life – think about that for a moment. From the first music you remember hearing, to the first record you bought. From the songs you danced to at your school discos, to the first dance at your wedding. When the radio plays a song you haven’t heard for years and you obsessively pull the album out and lose yourself to those old songs and the sights and smells they conjure in your mind. That’s the power of music and why it’s so important to me.

One of the highlights of my life’s soundtrack is OK Computer by Radiohead. Today they release the 20th anniversary reissue, OKNOTOK 1997 2017. There have been many album reissues and gigs, particularly in the last decade, to remind me of how the years are passing by; all conjuring memories, all vital parts of my soundtrack but none, so far, with the impact of this one.

1997 – I was 22 and had just come back from a year living in France. I had my final year of University ahead of me and was contemplating a summer empty of plans, or worries. Remember those?

OK Computer and Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space both came out on June 16th. I went straight to my local Our Price, bought both on CD (evidenced by the receipt which includes Bittersweet Symphony on CD single) and spent the rest of the day listening to them, laid out on my bed, poring over lyric sheets, absorbing every note. Two weeks of obsessive listening later, a mate of mine called and said he was taking his brother’s camper van to Glastonbury and did I want to go? “We’ll jump the fence or something when we get there” – halcyon days! We didn’t jump the fence, we paid a security guard to borrow his pass, and once your hand was stamped, you were in for the weekend.

Radiohead’s Saturday night set (http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/radiohead/1997/worthy-farm-pilton-england-7bd7be7c.html) was probably the most iconic gig of their career and of my life so far. As Thom Yorke sang “rain down on me from a great height” from Paranoid Android (https://youtu.be/ATvonKDt6jQ?t=21m52s), the heavens opened (it was the year of the mud) and it was completely magical, so much so that I swore I’d never go to Glastonbury again. I mean how do you top that? Believe me though, I’d be there in a heartbeat this year. When music, place and time all come together, these are the times you’ll never forget.

Since 97 the album, and Radiohead’s music, has been a near constant soundtrack to my life. There aren’t many months that go by without me playing a song or two from it. I know every word, every drum fill, every guitar lick, I mean you memorised albums then, didn’t you? The Internet has brought many great things and I love Spotify and the musical exploration it brings, but the over proliferation of music means that you don’t spend the time with albums that you once did. Also, time doesn’t move in the same way when you’re 22. I wish it did.

In the intervening 20 years I met my wife and we’ve now got shared memories soundtracked by Radiohead’s music, other bands too of course, but there’s a special place in our hearts for these five boys from Oxford. In the last ten years we’ve also had our two boys, and whilst they’re not fully signed up members of the Radiohead fan club yet, their memories of our house, our car journeys and the time we spend together in their own formative years, are going to be coloured by all the music we’re exposing them to.

As Colin Greenwood says on his The First Time interview on BBC Radio 6 music “You’re making something that is feeding into people’s lives and memories that is entirely theirs and has nothing to do with yours. There’s a sharing of that when people come to shows and it’s a powerful combination.”

So today as I tweet to death about this anniversary and what this amazing album means to me; as I feel the excitement of running to the record shop to buy OK Computer all over again; as I listen to it at work, at home and settle down with my wife to watch Radiohead play Glastonbury tonight (20 years and no fence jumping), I’m remembering the 22 year old me, laying on his bed obsessing over 12 songs that, in 2017, reverberate with all the life and love of the 20 years that separate me from him.

Thank you Thom, Jonny, Ed, Colin and Phil.

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The Internet giveth and the Internet taketh away.

What have you lost as a direct result of the Internet? What have you gained?

I partly funded my way through University by working in Virgin Megastores and Our Price Records, both now defunct, sadly missed, killed, at least in part, by the rise of digital music propagated by the Internet.

Our Price Records
There are several mid to late nineties albums I can claim a small amount of responsibility for pushing sales of, Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs being one in particular that I played and played in Fleet Our Price. The hit rate was impressive – passers-by, sucked into the shop by the sounds of the musical saw in Holes, would walk up, ask what was playing and leave with a copy.

Ah those halcyon days!

And now I find myself leading Social Business at Grant Thornton, a role, at least in part, made possible by the Internet and peoples’ constant struggles to get to grips with it. I now help people to explore social selling – not records this time, but their professional selves and expertise…often without help from a musical saw.

So, lost – my perfect job and most of the world’s record shops, though those that remain are all the more special for their scarcity. Gained – another job, another industry and still trying to sell music to people every day through my Twitter account!

So, what have you lost as a direct result of the Internet? What have you gained?

(This post brought to you in association with a long train journey and Dirty Projectors’ Swing Lo Magellan on my headphones. Available to watch by the power of the Internet here or to buy from your favourite local record shop here.) 

2012 album Top Ten and 2013 resolutions

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House That Heaven Built video

Late to the table with this but as many will know, I kinda take these things seriously!

I’m not ordering all of these albums because I’m not sure there has been one clear choice all year. I’ve been quite obsessive about a lot of albums over the last twelve months, but many of them have fallen by the wayside so this list is made up of those I’ve come back to time and time again.

1. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
2. The Walkmen – Heaven
3. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
4. Grimes – Visions
5. Matthew E. White – Big Inner
6. Grizzly Bear – Shields
7. Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits
8. The Men – Open Your Heart
9. Woods – Bend Beyond
10. Beach House – Bloom, Sharon Van Etten – Tramp, Calexico – Algiers, Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

OK so I’ve cheated, but those last four are pretty good all said.

I’m not sure it’s been a better year than 2011 but it’s certainly been a year for ‘back to basics’ guitar, bass and drums which is why Japandroids stands out from the rest. Just a joyous, celebratory album from start to finish…as the title suggests.

New Year resolutions? Get better at blogging more often. Might even get that book idea started. And Pilates. The Alexander Technique stuff is doing wonders, but in 2013 I don’t plan any more disc slips! And to aid in that, less time behind a desk and more time having conversations. Email as a last resort rather than first stop.

Happy 2013.

Enjoying the interwebs

I spend so much of my time showing people how to use and get value from technology and the web, that making time to enjoy it is difficult.

So given I have a day off and the boys are contained, I’m playing with two of my favourite things.

Vimeo, which starts off with a search and hoovers time like you wouldn’t believe. From music videos, to short films, to animation, to nature, it really is the YouTube antidote and long may it continue to be so.

https://vimeo.com/user12750502

Also, NPR. Having been introduced to the NPR podcast archive about 8 years ago, I’ve never looked back. From All Songs Considered, to All Things Considered and NPR Books, TED, Pop Culture etc…..there is something here for everyone. And the further you delve, the greater the rewards. Years of archived concerts, desk concerts and sessions. Hours upon hours of great discussion and album first listens; it’s all here.

Get the NPR Music app, visit the website but spend some time here and you’ll find a friend.

Anyway…I’m wasting that valuable time. More possibly non music related updates soon.

Paul out.

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Grizzly Bear – Shields

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“But I can’t help myself.”

I read a review of the new Grizzly Bear album that said nothing in their back catalogue could prepare you for the opening track, ‘Sleeping Ute’, but I think I’d disagree.

Yes the production (what is that harpoon sound?) is bigger and ballsier than anything that has come before, but ‘On a Neck, On a Spit’ (from Yellow House, 2006) is when I first thought, wow, this band is promising. Shields is the album where that promise is fully realised.

It’s not that I didn’t like Veckatimest (from 2009) but it was too polite. Chamber pop; smart, polished, beautiful in places, but kind of unsurprising. ‘Two Weeks’ became a bit of an anthem in our house, but mainly because our recently born son smiled at the intro. That says it all really!

So I wasn’t unprepared for what I’m hearing on Shields, I was expecting it last time round.

For the uninitiated, Grizzly Bear are from Brooklyn and formed in the early 2000s. Shields is their fourth album and was released in September 2012, a pretty good month for music all in all after a quiet summer. It’s by far their most ambitious record, but one which I expect will be eclipsed by Veckatimest in terms of sales.

And the music? ‘Sleeping Ute’ is an opening tour de force, full of drama, constantly moving but underpinned by acoustic guitar and the repeated phrase, “and I can’t help myself.” It’s dizzying and is followed by the double header of ‘Speak In Rounds’ and ‘Yet Again’. Both continue the pace set by the opening, the former ending in a squall of guitar and horns that brings to mind a runaway train.

‘The Hunt’ slows things down again and reminds me of Yellow House. ‘A Simple Answer’ is propelled along amiably by piano and Christopher Bear’s drums, making way for a much more sinister coda and is perhaps my favourite track at the time of writing.

‘What’s Wrong’ is all smoky jazz clubs and film noir, showing off Daniel Rossen’s jazz chops and adding a sense of mystery to the feeling of restlessness throughout the rest of the album.

And then comes the closing trio of tracks. ‘gun-shy’ wouldn’t be astray on Veckatimest, which makes the album’s final flourish all the more exciting.

‘Half Gate’ and ‘Sun In Your Eyes’ return to the ambition and scale of the opening. The former has a lovely guitar refrain that gives me goose bumps when it kicks back in just after 3 minutes. The latter, well…wow. I’ve not heard the new Bond theme, but if it has half the drama of ‘Sun In Your Eyes’ I’d be surprised.

Across its 7 minutes we get piano ballad, horn fanfare (the review above likens it to Copeland), a false ending, the best harmonies on the album and a Greek chorus/call and response ending. I’d say it was breathless, but the piano filled space in the middle of the song lets you catch your breath for the finale.

And the sign of a good album? Immediately wanting to put it back on again. I have listened to this a lot over the past few weeks and there’s something new in there each time.

This is a realisation of everything they’ve achieved so far and their best album to date. Six years in the making.

Doesn’t everyone have an inner soundtrack?

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You’ve seen it right? Jesus Quintana dancing up to bowl. Los Lobos covering Hotel California in the background. He struts, he preens but you know he means business.

Well I’m never without my iPod and I’m sure like me, most of you have felt an extra spring in the step when THAT song comes on and your natural gait becomes more of a strut. No? Just me? When that song doesn’t end and you’re into the lift, onto your floor, walking to your desk thinking, “if they could only hear what I hear!”… No? Still just me?

I listen to music a lot. When I’m walking, resting, in bed, working…my headphones are never far away. Sometimes I don’t even have my headphones on. I just hear it in my head and still get that same spring.

Music is so mood altering that I’ve noticed it affects my productivity and style. I’m thinking of starting every email, every presentation by including soundtrack info right at the beginning. On the title slide – “This presentation was brought to you by Paul Thomas and Tom Waits.” It would at least explain the lack of flow!

So what’s your inner soundtrack? What’s the song or band that helps you to do your best work or start your day on the right (dancing) foot?

(And if you’re wondering, this slightly springy blog post was brought to you by Supergrass, I Should Coco. And like the last track on that album, it’s Time To Go.