Monday, 25 May 2009

Swotting on Spotify for Eddi, Boo & Co Concert

Tomorrow I should have the pleasure of seeing Boo Hewerdine, Heidi Talbot, John McCusker and Eddi Reader in concert at the South Bank. To celebrate and stoke up the mood, I’ve drawn up a playlist on Spotify with some selections from those artists as well as a few related to them in some way, such as Brian Kennedy, Declan O’Rourke, Martha Wainwright and her pater, Loudon Wainwright III, Jools Holland and Thomas Dolby. Please have a listen, if you like; it’s free to sign into Spotify (if you don’t mind a quick aural ‘advert’ that pops up only very occasionally) and it’s a wonderful tool for listening to music that you might not have yourself. If you don't yet have it (and I'm sure you'll use it loads to listen to whatever you like), download it here: Otherwise, please head here: or: spotify:user:braintracer:playlist:0ZTR9wYdjO8D8lDBS6VSk9 . Meanwhile, I shall delve into my mental meanderings here to comment on why I included what I did, and unfortunately, I go on way too much as usual, so skim (and I’ll hope to find time to trim)!

Declan O’Rourke kicks off fairly early in the list. His song Galileo is just stunning. Hence it is covered by many, including Eddi Reader, but even her fine pipes cannot better this original version. Gorgeous. I saw him open for Paul Brady at the Barbican [my review is at ] and he’s even better live without some of the soppy production, though there’s nothing wrong with this song. And you may be surprised to hear the applause at the end of this song as it seems impossibly perfect to be anything less than a torturously refined studio cut.

Get Happy by Danny Wilson follows, full of brass, boppy backing vocals and handclaps--wonderful. I once saw Boo perform with Gary Clark of DW at Ronnie Scott’s (support for the honey-voiced Colin Vearncombe of Black), and their paths seem to have crossed a fair bit. Neill MacColl of Boo’s 80s band The Bible also joined forces with Gary to form King L for a bit. When this cover of Get Happy comes up on my iPod, I find the feet of my spirit tapping wildly but joyfully.

Ezio Lunedei and his skilled guitarist Booga are, like Boo, from the Cambridge area. They are fans of his and covered his 59 Yards, and I recall seeing them at the Cambridge Folk Festival once right before Boo, Eddi and Colin Reid took the stage, so they always make me think of Boo. Wild Side is my favourite of their songs and would be great in a film, I always think.

Brian Kennedy is here as he has covered many Boo songs and they’ve worked together. I would have liked to have put a Brian/Boo collaboration here such as Different God or Glass and Diamonds, but neither is on Spotify. Nor are any of the Sweetmouth tunes, a one-album collaboration between Fairground Attraction's Mark E Nevin and Brian. Mark had loads of songs written for Eddi to perform on their next album as Fairground Attraction, but she went solo, so he got another limitless, soaring voice to sing them instead. Some of them are available on live F.A. albums, but I enjoyed the smooth, peaceful delivery on the Sweetmouth album. The Waltz Continues is my favourite from the latter with Brian, but here I’ve included a live version by Fairground Attraction, which is a treat as I hadn’t ever heard Eddi singing it as planned. A footstomping live version of Sweetmouth’s Fear is the Enemy of Love is available as a B-side on one of Brian’s singles, with Calum MacColl on lead guitar; they used to play together regularly until I guess Ronan Keating offered Calum more solid work. [Calum is Neill MacColl’s brother and Kirsty MacColl’s half brother, sharing the same father, the legendary Ewan MacColl. More later on the siblings.....] It’s a shame Spotify doesn’t have at least Mark’s first solo album, but they are adding to their collection all the time. Fairground Attraction’s biggest hit, Perfect, is included in my playlist for the sake of nostalgia, although it isn’t dated.

Brian’s Irish hit Captured is also here, from his wonderful first album, back when he seemed to be an intriguing gutsy folk crossover artist rather than the more pop-obsessed Eurovision contestant, but I still think he’s grand; nothing wrong with being into pop stardom and representing your country, is there? I first discovered Brian in 1990 when I dragged my brand new husband and in-laws against their will to the venue in time to catch the support act for Suzanne Vega when they had deliberately planned to miss the support act, whereas I like to experience new music. I ditched them some years later, not just because of that though. In fact, they were all wowed by Brian when I finally got them there on time.

One time a friend and I were chatting to Brian Kennedy after a concert, mostly trying to convince him that he should take Boo Hewerdine on tour as his support act. My friend said BK should play more Boo-scribed songs anyway and BK mentioned something about the guitar parts being too tricky, having been written by a man with big hands, and I pointed out that if he had Boo touring with him, then Boo could join BK on stage and play those tricky parts. And then BK did tour with Boo opening for him, then joining BK on stage as his guitarist. Our commission cheque hasn’t yet arrived so I assume it was just coincidence, and the concerts were grand.

Boo’s limited catalogue on Spotify meant most of what I wanted to share is unavailable, but I’ve added Butterfly, which is a fun co-write with the group Hepburn; I've not heard their version. It's horrid that so many Boo classics, from the rocking to the breathtakingly featherlight soft, are simply not available. Still, there are some terrific things here, as Boo rarely produces anything less, such as A Cloud No Bigger Than Your Hand and one of the newer ones that I just adore, Sing to Me. One day perhaps.... Fortunately, I only use Spotify for sharing and recommending, as I seem to have more songs than they do at present (which is why there is no room for me in my flat), but it is an impressive service, so I’m definitely not faulting it, just feeling a bit frustrated by early limitations today.

The Swimming Song; I’m not overly fond of Eddi’s version of this Loudon Wainwright III song but it is cheerful, and most people enjoy it. Loudon’s versions are always a delight. He’s included here not just because Eddi has covered his songs, but also Boo toured with him long ago (and Loudon apparently came out and watched Boo’s set), and shortly after that, Boo used Loudon’s then unknown daughter Martha on backing vocals for his Thanksgiving album. Martha never sounded better. Thanksgiving is an astonishing omission from Spotify and I hope that will soon be rectified; it’s probably Boo’s best album with some true classics like Murder in the Dark; Bell, Book and Candle, and the hauntingly beautiful The Birds Are Leaving.

I have included a song of Martha’s, not the profanity-ridden diatribe at her father that drew quite a few breaths when she belted it out at the Royal Festival Hall in front of people who had come to see her brother Rufus Wainwright or their mother and aunt, the McGarrigle Sisters—but which still won enormous applause after the initial stunned gasp when her admirably passionate delivery ended. Nor have I included one of her poppier songs from her more successful recent album, but Factory, which I enjoy although it sounds to me an awful lot like Tom Robinson’s War Baby [which the great Roddy Frame sang with him when the latter appeared on Tom's radio show a few years ago. Tom kindly lets you download his songs without charge at so you can hear what I mean, but do leave a donation as it’s good of him to do that.....]

There are a few Loudon songs here, including one of my favourites, Hitting You, which is about his guilt over hitting a young Martha. I’ve also included one of his earlier tunes, Red Guitar, which really caught my ear when I last saw him at the Royal Festival Hall and he captured us all when he poured this out from the piano. Plus Unhappy Anniversary, one of Loudon’s many songs making a sad subject sound like a party. ‘Scuse the banjo, though at least it’s played well. I left out some of Loudon’s truly moving sad songs after the death of his parents, which I tend to include on my ‘mourning songs’ iPod playlist that helped after my own father’s death, and still does. Another such song is I Felt Her Soul Move Through Me, which Boo and Eddi wrote together. Boo’s version is here, about his mother, whereas Eddi sings it about her father (which suits my needs more but I first knew Boo’s version and am partial to that otherwise).

As none of Boo’s earlier albums, nor A Live One, are available on Spotify yet, I can’t share with you some of this absolute best work, not even A Slow Divorce, which is what first roped me in when I saw him live with Clive Gregson and a pregnant Eddi Reader in the early 1990s. Nor does Spotify have any Clive Gregson at all, not even the fun 1980s tunes of his band Any Trouble, which was criticised for being too like Elvis Costello (not that Elvis Costello-ish would be an insulting adjective in the 80s, and Clive’s got too much songwriting talent to be dismissed as unoriginal). No Christine Collister either; not only was she a long time collaborator with Clive, but she and Clive used to perform a Boo song, which is how they met, and Christine played a big part in the Kirsty MacColl Tribute at the Royal Festival Hall that Boo effectively curated and at which he performed (with Brian Kennedy and Mark Nevin), along with his past The Bible fellow band-mate, Neill MacColl, Kirsty’s half brother. [My review and pictures of that impressive night are here: Kirsty MacColl Tribute]. Boo, Eddi and Clive all perform together on a few singles, the best of which is Wonderful Lie, but which I can't include here.

Kirsty is here.....My Affair, a fun example of her brilliant wit, great punning and pace, and wonderful Cuban flavour. Also, the outstanding England 2 Columbia 0 from her magnificent final album released shortly before her tragic early death when she was hit by a speedboat belonging to one of Mexico’s wealthiest businessmen whilst swimming with her sons off Cozumel, for which there still has been no justice (visit her mother’s site . But focusing on the song rather than that sadness, it was again a wonderfully Kirsty way of summing up an experience, pulling together all the emotions in a clever way after she nearly fell for a guy who wasn’t the free and single chap he purported to be, and his friend thankfully took Kirsty aside to let her know before she plunged too deeply into that disaster. Kirsty's outstandingly fitting song Dear John, directed at her ex-husband, producer Steve Lilywhite, at the time of their divorce and co-written with Mark Nevin, was deemed too sad and personal to be included on Titanic Days, but Eddi released a superb version of the song later.

Secret Heart is one of many wonderfully beautiful songs from Ron Sexsmith, one of the most skilled but overlooked songwriters around. Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney have the sense to be big fans and he’s won or been nominated for the Canadian version of the Grammies a few times. Wonderful, kind man with a humble delivery. I first saw him deliver a set standing all alone on the giant stage at the Albert Hall when he came as support at short notice for Elvis Costello when Elvis was touring with just Steve Nieve in the late 1990s, I think. Ron’s On a Whim is covered by Eddi with Boo in the producer’s seat and that version is tremendous and close to perfection...but missing from Spotify for now.

Another Canadian is on the playlist: kd Lang, singing Boo’s song My Last Cigarette. He sometimes tells a story about how he was up for the Ivor Novello award for that one and attended a show where he and kd were going to perform it, and then right beforehand, kd fell off ther stool and stormed off, so he lost the chance. Or something like that. Hearing her version now after knowing it so much better with Boo’s voice, I find it nearly unbearable. No one could fault her voice; it's the dreadfully horrid lap steel guitars, my worst enemy.

I’ve included Darden Smith because Boo and Darden released an album together. One of my favourite (of many, many excellent) Boo songs is First Chill of Winter, which I don’t think he likes, perhaps because it appears to have been just thrown together by two tired men pent up in a hotel room trying to force some creativity through their pens and picks, so they started singing about the need to close the window as it was chilly. Though it could pass for a philosophical statement and it's a beautiful and beautifully performed number that I have to stop and focus on whenever I come across it. That album is understandably not on Spotify, but I was disappointed in the Darden Smith collection and would rather have added New Gospel.

Hummingbird I rather overlooked until I saw Eddi, Boo, the masterful Paul Brady (if I remember correctly), and others perform it on one of the Transatlantic Sessions series that is occasionally shown on BBC4, and now it gets my foot stomping when I hear it. The only problem with using these live tracks on the playlist is the chat at the end which, whilst nice, rather breaks the rhythm and also might get your hopes up that you’re about to hear something that you don’t.

There’s also a live version of one of her older tunes, The Right Place, which almost sounds as though she’s introducing a song called The Rapist, but fortunately nay. The Girl Who Fell in Love with the Moon is a marvellous song when performed either by Boo or Eddi, and as I usually prefer Boo’s versions (a prejudice?), I included this version by Eddi as I do think I might unusually just slightly favour it as it sweeps along so sweetly.

That’s Fair is a great one from her first album Mirmana, which Spotify only has two tracks from. (The Swimming Song came from this album, too). Neill MacColl was one of “The Patron Saints of Imperfection” who accompanied her, as well as Roy Dodds, and Neill’s brother Calum joins in a couple times. Jools Holland plays on several tracks, including Hammond on this one. I would have liked to have included the first track, What You Do With What You’ve Got (which was mixed on the album by Thomas Dolby and includes Aly Bain on fiddle), but I’ve done the next best thing if you see the end of this entry.....

Heidi Talbot’s beautiful Cathedrals is here along with Parting Song. On her album, Boo provides acoustic guitar and backing vocals, John McCusker (also due at the concert, the soon to be ex-Mr Kate Rusby) supplies fiddler and mandolin, Neill MacColl is on guitars, and Roy Dodds, the Fairground Attraction drummer who performs both with Eddi and with Mark Nevin and Brian Kennedy, is there doing his thing. Heidi will be at the concert, of course. She also provided vocals for the Drever McCusker Woomble album released last year, from which I’ve included All Along the Way and Silver and Gold.

Over it Now from Eddi's latest album is another Boo/Eddi-penned tune. Quite sweet and catchy, and a good demonstration of my belief that banjo=bad whereas mandolin or ukulele=charming.

Intuition is a fun cover of a John Lennon tune. I remember being so pleased when I finally got my hands on it, back when Internet purchasing was just making things a bit easier to get rare copies of things from across the world. And now you only need to go to Amazon or iTunes and download these things within minutes of having the whim of wanting it, or listen to Spotify.

Chris Difford, formerly of Squeeze, should be here, as Boo wrote with him and performed on his last album, The Last Temptation of Chris, the launch of which I was able to enjoy, listening to Chris and Boo and a few others play on the other side of the crowd whilst my friend and I sat on a sofa at the back beside Paul Gambaccini (if it was okay for him to remain seated, it was okay for tired us). Unfortunately, all Spotify has is his (enjoyable) charity Christmas single Let’s Not Fight This Christmas and one of his post-Squeeze collaborations with Jools Holland.

Jools Holland is here because of his early work with Eddi, and she recorded the vocals for Waiting Game, a punchy song with great brass, but that’s not in the catalogue nor is the utterly impeccable live version of Dr Jazz, which doesn’t feature Eddi but is too brilliant for words. Still, Spotify has a lot of Jools Holland and I’ve added an earlier song that I always enjoyed by Jools pre-his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, though many people complain of his weedy voice. I liked it.

Perhaps more of a surprise inclusion is Thomas Dolby. He’s just released The Singular Thomas Dolby, a retrospective with a DVD of 19 tracks, and I nearly included one of the fun old 80s hits like Radio Silence or She Blinded Me With Science, or the Ryuichi Sakamoto collaboration (Fieldwork, but that instrumentation sounded a bit too 80s to burst onto this somewhat folkier playlist just now), but instead went for The Flat Earth, which I was surprised to see wasn’t on this new compilation, so I’ll have to download that track or get the earlier hits album, Retrospectacle (sadly all my old vinyl is with a kind overburdened friend in the States, so I source much of the older music through CD compilations). It starts a bit slow but bear with it.

Thomas is here because he has worked with Eddi in the past; as I mentioned before, he mixed one of her better early tracks. She also contributed to his song Cruel from his Astronauts and Heretics album. I believe I read on his blog (which I’ve only just come across but need to explore more as he writes impressively, clearly an intelligent man) that he’s planning to do some recording with her in the near future. That, I am sure, will be worth the patience required until its release.

Meanwhile, you can watch Eddi performing What You Do With What You’ve Got with Thomas adding lovely piano and the great Boo Hewerdine on guitar in 2003 (or 2004?) at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference, for which Thomas Dolby is the Music Director. This clip is a treasure, the kind of thing we’re so lucky someone bothers to make available, so be sure to tune in:- That’s one of the prettiest early Eddi solo tunes, which is another omission from Spotify, but now you can hear and see it with two superb musicians accompanying her. At the same site, you can watch Eddi perform the much admired Kiteflyer’s Hill, a Mark Nevin song from her excellent Angels & Electricity album, co-produced by Boo.

Incidentally, I’ve just come across an archive bit of Thomas Dolby’s blog shortly after he posted those videos, where he describes a story Eddi told at that event about auditioning for his The Flat Earth tour in 1983 and also, at his request, practicing the unrealistically high female vocal part in what became his hit Hyperactive. That part in the end was, of course, ‘digitally enhanced’, which I gather irked Eddi somewhat after she failed the audition perhaps for not being able to reach quite the high register that was required. Of course, Thomas D tells it better:

I also considered adding to this playlist some Colin Reid, the amazing acoustic guitarist who has performed quite a few times with Boo and Eddi, and both singers have guested on his album, but he seems a bit too obscure for Spotify, although there is a live version of Eddi doing the Fleetwood Mac cover that she contributes to Reid’s album. Neill MacColl put out a great album last year with Kathryn Williams, but that’s not available on Spotify. Jane Siberry, who has performed on stage at the South Bank with Boo after he opened for her, was excluded as Spotify only has hymns by her and nothing from her extensive back catalogue, and others were excluded for the same reason. But I don’t wish to sound like I’m criticising Spotify; it’s an impressive utility for those whose flats do not look like a cluttered HMV warehouse or who have not ripped their CDs to the PC or network.

But I hope some of you perhaps give my playlist a listen as it’s full of great artists, and I hope that I’m not a jinx for concerts (given that Morrissey cancelled when I was due to see him at the Albert Hall recently; hope his health improves) and I get to see some of those great artists on Tuesday. I’m unusually allowing myself out ‘on a school night’—on the eve of some crucial meetings for which I need a clear head and ideally an early night, but it’s been far too long since I’ve seen Boo perform and the bill and venue are too tempting to keep me behaving.

Incidentally, Boo--and several others I mentioned in these ramblings—is on Twitter, although he’s a rare tweeter (as am I; I’m there primarily to observe and enjoy). I’ve been meaning to blog about Twitter for yonks now, but now there’s probably little else to say as it’s recently reaped so much publicity, but I still may in the next couple days if I have time before work saturates my life again, as I know there are still some people out there who have little clue what it’s about or how to take part, and I’ll help if I can. You might like to follow the musicians I’ve mentioned who are on Twitter.... I’ll go into more detail in the next blog, and might even finally get around to updating my neglected website, too ( About Last Night.... ). Meanwhile, full accounts appear there of past concerts by many of the artists mentioned here, including Brian Kennedy, Eddi Reader, Boo Hewerdine, Loudon Wainwright III, and Ron Sexsmith, so please delve in if you have time to kill...whilst listening to their artistic gifts on Spotify at .