Miles vs Bracha

Ryan Bracha is a genuine nutcase who writes hyper-modern fiction from his Bond-villain-esque lair in Barnsley. 90% of the country will tell you that his work is purile and revolting and will write strongly worded letters to their local church mouse asking for it to be banned. The other 10% will tell you that he is the best British writer to emerge for years and we should all be reading his magnificent books right now. After he wrote a couple of hilarious articles for this very website, Mr Bracha was kind enough to beta-read some of my deeply miserable stories that will make up my forthcoming book. Possibly sensing that I am almost as deranged as he is, he then invited me to write a few thousand words imagining what it would be like if I flipped my lid and ended up in a loony bin. Fortunately, as I think of that scenario pretty much every minute I spend doing my ludicrous job, I was only too happy to oblige. The resulting book, Twelve Mad Men, has stories by other SOTS alumni such as Darren Sant, Paul D Brazil, and Gareth Spark, along with a whole host of other macabre and malicious minds. The whole thing is held together by a running narrative from Bracha’s own chewed biro. I recently managed to contact him at what he refers to as his “institute” and conducted the following interview.

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So.. Twelve Mad Men. Are these people your friends, acquaintances you made through various acts of vagrancy or simply the twelve lunatics sat in your head working the controls?
They’re me, and eleven other lunatic writers that I managed to coerce through blackmail, bribery, sex, and begging into contributing to an idea I’d had. Some were closer than others, some I’d never interacted with at all, but I’d like to think we’d bonded a little in the process. One of them is pregnant with my child. You’ll have to guess who.

What gave you the idea to inflict something this unpleasant on the book-buying public?
Too much fluff out there. Too many Tesco bookshelf writers with not enough ideas between them. ‘Safe’ pisses me off. I wanted to give some kindred spirits a release for the most horrendous stuff that’s been building up in the writer parts of their brains, but perhaps never wanted to go that risky on their own. It’s strength in numbers. I’m Spartacus, and so are all my mates. So yeah, I wanted to offend as many people as possible with this book, and have some other people to blame. They’re all fucked in the nut. Especially Richard Godwin. He scares me.

I’ve read some of your earlier work and it’s obvious to me that you’re clearly a deeply disturbed individual. How were you able to find people of a similar mindset?

Thank you very much, very kind of you to say. We’re in a very network reliant sector of the industry, to be successful you can’t go it alone, you have to make some friends along the way. So it was easy to find great minds in the network I’ve managed to weasel my way in to, really cool chaps too. I refuse to associate with people who are dicks about it all.

Tell us a bit about yourself Bracha, and please try and limit it to just one of your personalities.

I’m a man. I married a woman. I’ve lived on the planet for close to 35 years and I’ve always played the joker and tried to entertain. My wife told her mate when we’d first met “I think he’s a keeper, but his mind doesn’t work like everybody else’s.” – That sums me up. If you can handle, and get used to the way my mind works then we can probably be friends.

This is quite a ground breaking concept, probably because no one has been warped enough to think of such a thing before. Will there be more chapters in this tawdry little story?
Definitely, I’m already working on two other projects like this one. Twelve Ways to Die, and Twelve Nights at Table Six. The former is set in Hell, the latter at table six. The clue’s in the title. I exposed the writers’ messed up sides with great character pieces, these others are intended to explore how they write good set pieces and how they deal with dialogue. I’m an experimental chap.

What do you think to the rumours that a group of militant Daily Mail readers are attempting re-animate the corpse of Mary Whitehouse in a bid to have this shocking book banned?
They can have a go, I harvested the thing for organs years ago. They could probably make a nice kayak out of her.

Do you feel guilty about providing a platform for such evidently damaged and dangerous people to vent their spleens, or you get some of perverse, voyeuristic thrill out of it?
The latter. I want them to have fun going nuts, and I want front row seats to it. You should see Mark Wilson’s story. The man is damaged.

And how would you respond to the allegations that you’re merely using these writers to establish a pedestal to foist your own horrifying literary manifesto on an unsuspecting public?
I’d kind of agree, but only in the same sense of a fat middle aged Spanish woman taking my virginity in Ibiza. It’s a grotesque scene these boys are a part of, but they love it. The manifesto is a superb way of challenging yourself. It holds you over the deep end and gives your forehead a little kiss before dropping you into the water to fend for yourself.

And presumably the profits of this book will go on building some sort of underground bunker for yourself?

Nope. Charity. Every penny will go to a healthy rotation of good causes, the first of which is Teenage Cancer Trust.

Ah, a redemptive statement right at the end. Where can we find this book, Mr Bracha?
Amazon for now, but in talks with local vendors about stocking the paperbacks.

Thank you. And incidentally, good luck making the bail payment.
Cheers. I’ve got an indiegogo campaign to raise the money. One of the perks is that for a fiver, I don’t murder your family.

bracha 12 int

Ryan Bracha is the bestselling author of Strangers Are Just Friends You Haven’t Killed Yet and Paul Carter is a Dead Man, he’s also got every intention of being the saviour of British literature, but will happily accept the ‘Most likely to fail at being the saviour of British literature’ award at school. He just wants to entertain you and his wife. His wife refuses to read his work on the basis that it freaks her out, so it’s your responsibility now.

Twelve Mad Men is a comedic psycho-horror and literary portmanteau written by twelve unbelievably talented writers, and devised and narrated by one ludicrously ambitious turd.

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Twelve-Mad-Men-Ryan-Bracha-ebook/dp/B00LV0VLQA/ref=pd_sim_b_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=0T81TSYPAAFSE8WTXD46

US: http://www.amazon.com/Twelve-Mad-Men-Ryan-Bracha-ebook/dp/B00LV0VLQA/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 5

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No. 5 – The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)

I’m a huge fan of the cinematic genre Film Noir. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, movies of this category usually involve seedy bars, private detectives, poisonous women and hundreds and hundreds of cigarettes. The classic phase of noir is thought to have started in 1941 with The Maltese Falcon and ended in 1958 with A Touch Of Evil. As befits the time, there was no explicit sex or violence in these films, everything was implied. The gravitas in these movies came from the shadowy, angular camera work and the colossal charisma of the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre. Except for one seldom seen picture from 1950 called Kiss Me Deadly. The first scene features a screaming woman, naked under a trenchcoat, desperately trying to thumb a lift on a unlit back road. The intro titles somewhat disconcertingly roll down rather than up the screen, and there are scenes of genuinely brutal violence. The underlying premise is of an underground government plot to conduct nuclear experiments and there is a particularly sinister scene in which the protagonist effectively pimps out his own girlfriend in order to gain information. Pretty heavy for 1950, I’m sure you’ll agree. Fast forward eighteen years, and while over here the likes of The Beatles, The Small Faces and The Rolling Stones were performing minor drug-induced miracles with the music they were making, they weren’t really ramming what they were doing down people’s throats. Over on the west coast of America, it was all about the peace and love and hippiness, morons in kaftans and leather headbands proclaiming that everyone should have a hug a day and idiotically trying to convince people that The Jimi Hendrix Experience were a great band. In New York, meanwhile, a smell as toxic as that of Kiss Me Deadly could be inhaled.

The Velvet Underground are the single most influential band of all time and the coolest band of all time. There is a very famous quote from Brian Eno that I could insert here but I won’t because he’s a very boring man who makes terrible records. Quite apart from The Beatles and Bob Dylan’s nods and winks towards their drug use, The Velvet Underground were the first band ever to say “Yep, there’s lots of people taking drugs, we know cos we take drugs. Yep, there’s lots of people indulging in extreme sexual practices, and we’re writing songs about it. Yep, this guitar can make sounds other than E, A and D.” They are by a distance America’s greatest ever band and begat two of the all time greats, John Cale and the late Lou Reed.

Obviously, no-one bought this record. They were utterly terrified of it. Andy Warhol, knowing controversy when he saw it, made them the centrepiece of his arts collective The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which consisted of mime artists, beat poets and one young lady who waded into the audience wearing a leather bustier and screaming at couples “Are you happy with him? Does he fuck you good?” The band would play a set of four or five songs, each lasting between seven and twenty minutes and garner no applause at all. Warhol funded the album and put his own name on the cover, along with an certain iconic piece of fruit. So, where The Beatles were singing “All you need is love”, The Velvets were slurring “Taste the whip, now bleed for me.” The guitars were drenched in repulsive feedback and an uncommonly beautiful woman had been transplanted into the middle of this cacophony to drone away in the same manner as the band.

It would all amount to nothing without the songs. But they had the songs. They tried to smother them with the racket, but they had the songs. The album begins with the ultimate hangover ballad, Sunday Morning, with its soft echo vocal, xylophone and hopeless refrain of “It’s nothing at all”. It is the sound of being happy to be in pain. The relentless chug chug chug of Waiting For The Man follows, the narrative of a junkie desperate for the arrival of his dealer, truly seismic for 1968. They had full-on rockabilly belters (distorted beyond measure, obviously) in Run Run Run and European Son, and sweet sweet doo-wop in Femme Fatale and I’ll Be Your Mirror, both “sung” by the teutonic chanteuse Nico. The latter was played at the wedding of my colleague Dr Barnes, and when I heard about this she instantly flew into the top five of my cool list.

The true core of the album lies with the genuine experiments, though. Venus In Furs is one of the most explicitly lascivious songs ever written, a candle-wax slow grind about the joys of sado-masochism with screeching viola and the most reptilian groove of all time. Listen to it now and your pelvis will automatically start to move. Heroin is obviously the spindle of the album, a song designed to simulate the rush of shooting up, a slow build spiralling into an unrestrained row where all thought of musical structure is completely abandoned as Reed chuckles and gasps and sings “It’s my life, and it’s my wife.” This song didn’t get on the radio.

The other two tracks are why I love this album so much. I went to an exhibition of underground rock art at the Tate Modern in 2005 entirely by chance and a one of the exhibits was a video of The Velvet Underground performing All Tomorrows Parties and The Black Angel’s Death Song, sometime in 1967. I’d bought the album about six years before that and instantly adored it, but after I’d toddled into this tiny booth all by myself and seen, at the age of twenty three, these five weirdos all clad in black, looking so aloof yet so threatening, I realised you could scare people with art. You could hurt them with words, you could offend them with music. The two songs in question were complete opposites; one a crushing glacial dirge and the other a howling spiralling din of feedback and atonal strings while Lou scats all those amazing lines of the most visceral imagery, and seeing them on that screen had pinned me to the wall.

Of all the white rock acts that have emerged since this album was released, arguably only Van Morrison and Rod Stewart have escaped its influence, which is probably a good thing, as no-one wants to see them in leather jackets singing about bondage, but I think the single biggest pointer I could give to the huge legacy this record gave to the world was from an exchange I had on Facebook about two years ago. I had acquired a fantastic boxset comprised of records from the late fifties and early sixties entitled The Best Of The Girl Groups. As my status update I put something like “Just listened to The Best Of The Girl Groups. Wasn’t everything sweet and innocent before The Velvet Underground turned everyone into perverts?” and a friend of mine replied “Yes, but thank God they did.”

And I agree Kelly, thank God they did.

Best Tracks: Venus In Furs, All Tomorrow’s Parties, The Black Angel’s Death Song

Best Moment: The gorgeous backing vocals in There She Goes Again, the song that Johnny Marr would rip off for There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.

Like this? Try: Psychocandy by The Jesus And Mary Chain, 1985

Al’s Top 30 Albums – No. 6

 

No. 6 OK Computer – Radiohead

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Think back to good old 1997. The Spice Girls straddled the world like a day-glo coloured colossus, Tony Blair was being elevated to the level of an all-conquering romantic hero who could only be played in the cinema by Robert Redford and Tom Hanks’s lovechild, and Oasis, The Verve and The Prodigy between them were telling all right-minded indie kids that everything would be grand provided we all hoovered the requisite wheelie bin-full of jazz salt up our collective hooters. So why did this hunch-shouldered, lazy-eyed miserable ginger dwarf have to shuffle into view to tell us that in fact everything wasn’t grand, that this enormous socio-political orgy would soon result in a catastrophic information implosion, that soon we would need someone to pull all of us kicking screaming gucci little piggies out of the aircrash? Why did he have to spoil the party?

Confusion, overload, static, seclusion in Jane Seymour’s mansion and a diet of Bitches Brew and Maxinquaye were the inspiration for OK Computer, the most critically worshipped English album since Revolver. And where the year’s other major releases, Be Here Now and Urban Hymns, seemed like a desperately out-reaching celebration of everything that was going on in the world, Radiohead’s third album instead seemed vacuum-packed, hermetically sealed, a cryogenically preserved nugget of life on the eve of the millennium, waiting to be discovered by races of the distant future.

The recording process was fascinating. Lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood had asked on the bands website for fans to send him unusual chords, Airbag was conceived to sound like “a car crash”, No Surprises “like a child’s toy”. The glacial Exit Music (For A Film) was based on the Baz Lurmann interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, and where a minor chord ballad in the hands of any other band would be perhaps whimsical and romantic, here it is brutal; a desolate tumbleweed-swept strum of acoustic guitar with a moaned vocal so crisply recorded you can hear the spit in the corners of Thom’s mouth, then a grotesque bass line hoofs through the dirge while the drums flail away and the moan becomes a heart-wrenching wail. We hope that you choke, indeed.

1997 was the year for ridiculous choices of singles. D’Yer Know What I Mean, Risingson, Smack My Bitch Up. Paranoid Android was more ridiculous than all of them, and the track on which Radiohead show that it was they, rather than Oasis, who truly picked up the baton of the Beatles and David Bowie as the future of british music. A preposterous three-act rock opera, hyper-modern lyrics and the most innovative musicianship since the early years of the Factory label, it got to number two in the singles charts, helped no doubt by the bizarre promo video featuring Paramount Channel mainstay Robin, and uses the word “Gucci” as a term of abuse. It is astonishing.

OK Computer could have been the most influential album of all time; it was mind-bogglingly inventive, fearless, and a mainstream success. Yet, it almost seemed as if their contemporaries were afraid to try and follow it. Every band in its slipstream would release albums that revelled in retro-chic, such as The Strokes and The White Stripes, and after Radiohead drained themselves of all their creative juices with 2000′s remarkable Kid A, they would disappear up their own rectal cavities for seven years until the beautifully executed release of In Rainbows. It seems, in hindsight, like a glorious opportunity wasted. This was music that could melt candles; from the blissful voyuerism of The Tourist to the terrifying domestic prowler narrative of Climbing Up The Walls (listen to the scream at the end) these were songs that connected on a human level like no other band since The Smiths. They weren’t miserable, they weren’t depressing. They were just utterly brilliant.

Best Tracks: Exit Music (For A Film), Let Down, Climbing Up The Walls

Best Moment: The glorious crescendo to Let Down, where Thom and Ed’s vocals soar and swirl like grains of pollen on a summer breeze and this saddest of lyrics produces one of the most inspiring passages of music of all time. Radiohead’s finest ever moment.

Like this? Try: So obvious, Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd, 1973.

Introducing – Alex Harvey by Andi Ware

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Like so many people the first time that I encountered Alex Harvey was when I saw some old Top of The Pops footage of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band performing their 1975 cover of ‘Delilah’. Alex, looking like a blue print for the Jack Sparrow character waltzed around the stage in a ballet-esque manner whilst seducing a selection of broken mannequins. And then there were SAHB (Sensational Alex Harvey Band) themselves with the clown painted Zal Cleminson (a shamefully under rated guitarist) with stage moves that made Brett Anderson appear butch. I remember being completely enthralled by the performance as never before had I witnessed such theatrics from a ‘rock and roll’ band. I was nine, maybe ten years old and I don’t think I’ve witnessed anything quite so peculiar and yet utterly genius since.
But the theatrics were merely the tip of the ice berg. You see SAHB, led by the disgustingly gifted Alex Harvey, were a phenomenal band. Their songs oozed with scorn, humour, emotion and sometimes flippancy (see ‘Gang Bang’ from ‘Next’, 1973). What made SAHB so phenomenal was their leader and tiny mountain of charisma Alex Harvey. Born in a deprived area of Glasgow in 1935 Harvey’s initial flirtations with popular music were in the form of his love of Skiffle and Dixieland Jazz. He formed Alex Harvey’s Big Soul Band in 1958 and from then until their demise in 1965 he gained a reputation as a kind of Scottish Tommy Steele. Despite other projects, including a failed attempt at a solo career, SAHB didn’t materialise until 1972 when Harvey recruited ex members of prog rock band Tear Gas. From then until their split in 1982, the year of Harvey’s death, SAHB made a total of thirteen studio albums.
So what makes Alex Harvey so special? Well there’s the quality of his songs. From Boston Tea Party to Swampsnake Harvey’s work possesses all of the swagger of say, Mott the Hoople and the eccentricities of Jethro Tull. Harvey is often referred to as a glam rock artist. This does him and SAHB a great disservice. He was in fact a pioneer of the British blues movement (see ‘Framed’ from Framed 1973) in the same vein as Rory Gallagher. Like Gallagher Harvey didn’t subscribe to any of the traits that you might associate with rock stars of his era. Unlike so many of his contemporaries Harvey managed to retain his hard-nosed working class wit and a humility that you would find in any Glasgow pub. Listen to the ‘The Sensational Alex Harvey Band; British Tour 1976’ and you will hear, in tiny snippets between songs, a successful rock star with a sense of humour; something a rarity. Above all Harvey was, in every sense, an ordinary working class Glasgow lad that happened to front a successful rock band.
Harvey, as in life, was beautifully ordinary in death. He died in 1982 after suffering a heart attack whilst awaiting to board a ferry returning from a rare North European tour (Harvey had retired from performing in 1977 due to back problems) with his new band Electric Cowboys. He died in the Zeebrugge, a small Port town in Northern Belgium the day before his 47th birthday.
If I had to describe Alex Harvey to a new comer I would say that he had all of the throat of Bon Scott and the stage presence of David Byrne. Of SAHB I would simply say that they were a Uriah Heep for those that had actually lost their virginity.

Ten Songs by Andy Richardson

1.Jackie Wilson -Higher & Higher
This was my taste of classic R&B, quarter of a century ago at the age of 7. I heard this song, like most people making a toaster dance in Ghostbusters 2. I think at a young age while you’re still cultivating your music tastes and you hear a song like this how can you not join the toaster dancing to such an upbeat, feel good song?

2.Marilyn Manson – Fight Song
To some Marilyn Manson is as mad as a box of frogs, to be fair they are a bit but their so much more. To me he was a General in the army of teenage rebellion and this song was my call to arms! Amazing rock porn really.

3.Foo Fighters – My Hero
They say everybody knows their own funeral song, this is my first of two? Selling points being the amazing guitar work, roaring bridge/interlude, and just the lyrics “there goes my hero, watch him as he goes, there goes my hero, he’s ordinary” instantly reminds me of my father.

4.Warren G – Regulate
If you was a teenager in the 90′s and thought you was a bit gangsta! Then I bet you know all the words to this song. To my eternal shame thought I was Tupac from the age of 14-18, I know, people change, jeez! Still, soon as you hear “MOUNT UP” you’re that annoying teenage version of you again for the next 3 minutes haha.

5. 3 Days Grace – Riot
Gym goers are getting knocked a bit in the media lately, being portrayed as superficial, metrosexual dandies with a keener eye for fashion than Cher from “Clueless” NA! Don’t get me wrong that stereotype does exist but only because they don’t have music like this on their playlist. The anger from this song helps me focus on a workout.

6.Bob Dylan – Knocking on Heavens Door
No explanation needed other than WOW!

7.Kansas – Carry on my Wayward Son
The 2nd of my funeral songs. This belter is a medley of classic rock guitar riffs, confirmed by its appearance on the Guitar Hero 2 play list. To me this song is a shining example of classic 80′s rock!

8.Traffic – Mr Fantasy
I first heard this on one of my favourite tv programmes. Our 2 tough as old boots protagonist brothers loose their only constant father figure, and in a moment of mourning play this song. Not only is it a touching moment but the lyrics are relatable “please don’t be mad, if it was a straight mind you had, we wouldn’t have known you all these years”. Even in 67 there was still a place for us “strange” people in society.

9.Odetta – Hit or Miss
I feel this song is confidence personified in the form of music. Soulful Motown that reaffirms the need to be yourself rather than follow a crowd and being a sheep. Especially in this day and age of hashtags, trending and following, the message in this song is as important as ever! Can have a good boogie to it too!

10.Puddle of Mud -She Hates Me
Ultimate break up song! I remember getting dumped once and sitting on my bed with this on repeat smoking 20 lamberts one after the other till I wasn’t depressed anymore. “Trust”

Andy Rich picAndy Richardson is a 32 year old male in the Hull area with an acute Peter Pan syndrome which he wears on his sleeve with pride. It could be said Andy is a little obsessed with superheroes, enjoys the gym, has just taken up archery and is known to like a drink.

My Top 5 T.F.I. Friday Moments by Martyn Taylor

For those of you who were in a coma… or living in a monastery… or indeed not born in the late 90′s, here is a quick history lesson for you.

T.F.I Friday was a pop culture entertainment programme on Channel 4 that ran from 1996 until the year 2000. It was broadcast at 6 o’clock but was re-run later the same night for the last orders punters to see it. It was presented by Chris Evans, who was kind of the 90′s version of Piers Morgan, but, lets be honest, he wasn’t half as annoying and had a tad more charisma. Anyways, the programme was a combination of live music, interviews and comedy.

I’ve been watching a lot of clips on YouTube just lately, and its brought back a lot of memories for me, so for those that have carried on reading this far, or for them that actually give a toss, here are my top 5 moments that I remember.

5. The Regular Features.

The show ran many regular segments which covered all areas of the comedy spectrum. My personal favourites were ‘Fat Look-a-likes’ which is self explanatory (this spawned the much more controversial ‘Asian Look-a-likes’). ‘Freak or Unique’, which was a hidden (useless) talent show were the audience would decide if you were freak or unique. Cue the ‘Incredibly Tall Old Lady’

However my personal number 1 from the regulars was ‘Ugly Blokes’, were an unattractive gentleman would get the opportunity to turn down the advances of supermodel Catalina Guirado.

4. Sharleen Spiteri Beautiful?

I’ve been unable to find a clip of this on YouTube, but I think I can remember it like it was yesterday. I had never heard of Sharleen or her band Texas, but they were going to both perform and be interviewed on this particular show.

Chris Evans announced her onto the set as the “…most beautiful women he’d ever met…” (or some other form of admiration) and my ears pricked up!

Who was me out? A six foot, blonde, big boobed, Swedish supermodel?

No!

An average looking, average height, average size ( . ) ( . ), plain looking women with a broken nose turned up on set. I thought “she’s nothing special” but when she spoke, she had a rare thing, a Scottish accent. She then sung Al Green in acapella style, she had drawn me in and I was in love!

3. The best question ever asked?

While interviewing a relatively unknown, young Scottish actor (Yes, it’s Ewan McGregor) about his upcoming movie ‘Trainspotting’, Mr Evans asked one of the best questions and well timed comedy queries from the show.

Trainspotting is well known for being a film about heroine abuse, so Chris asked “…doesn’t it worry you slightly a little bit that young kids, they may be tempted to get…into acting…”

Now, reading it doesn’t do it justice, but just watch it in this clip. Its about 3 minutes in.

2. Shaun’s Shop.

Shaun Ryder was the top wild man of the 90′s music scene, and regularly showed up many an interviewer on British T.V.

T.F.I Friday set up a sitcom style segment for him to show off his personality at its best. ‘Shaun’s Shop’ was it, I reckon that if he hadn’t made it as a celebrity hell raiser, he would have been raising hell up and down the high streets of the U.K.

1. Slipknot’s arrival.

In 2000 had you heard of ‘Thrash metal’?… Me neither. When Slipknot were announced on the show, I was eating my tea, and I guarantee you, my knife and fork didn’t move for the whole of their performance.

It takes something special to stop me from eating, and they did it with their performance of ‘Wait and Bleed’. I don’t even like ‘Thrash Metal’ (as you know, I’m all about the Britpop) but I was mesmerized. I don’t think any performance on T.V had captured my attention like before and since like Slipknot did that day which is why it has made it as my number 1.

“…Rock ‘N’ Roll, the kids love it…”

 

mart questionsMartyn Taylor is a 31 year-old father of three and lives in Hull. His pastimes include watching 80s action films over and over again and and debating the all-time Premiership XI with Mr Miles. His knowledge of American sitcoms of the 90s stands second to none. He once walked into a men’s public lavatory absent-mindedly singing the theme tune from Two And A Half Men. You can find him on http://www.twitter.com/shirleysblower but he never tweets, so just follow him on here.

Ten Songs by Gareth Spark

For me, music…song…has been more than a solace. These songs are magic spells, able to bring back dead days and friends and afternoons and the eyes of that one you loved, and lost, and the heat of a summer on the back of your neck on a beach you’ll never see again. They are incantations that invoke not only the bitter sweetness of nostalgia, but hopes that the crazy days, the whisky-stained and heartsick riotous days, might come again, and that somewhere in the routine beating you down, the drums are pounding, the bass is thumping alongside your heart and, man, that guitar don’t weep, it screams.

1/
Today by the Smashing Pumpkins

That riff takes me back twenty years to the dust and cigarette butts littering the long, long sun broken streets of Whitby in high summer. To a bunch of kids sitting in torn jeans and patchwork shirts stinking of joss sticks and menthols, looking out into the blue afternoon at a future that would be the greatest thing they could ever imagine. The trembling guitar, Billy Corgan’s petulant adolescent whine, that silver ring of guitar against a cloud of distortion captures perfectly the idle, ignorant beauty of a teenaged dream.

2/
Stolen Car by Bruce Springsteen

It’s dark in that little house out on the edge of town; the chords are picked out with a heavy, relentless futility echoing the voice of the song, a lament for a love that faded like car headlights into a night you never thought would come, but which always was, just the same. Springsteen captures with such haunting simplicity the lives of ordinary men and women as they veer off the highway, into nothingness, and he never did it better than here.

3/
Copper head Road by Steve Earle

Nobody evokes the stink of diesel, smoke and steel quite like Steve Earle. From the opening chords to the hammer slam of the beat beneath his voice, you’re transported not just to that world of moonshiners, drug runners and fractured war vets, but into it. You feel the sweat and grime on the steering wheel as you run from the D.E.A. chopper; you smell that whisky burning up on the road and taste the bitterness of applejack, nicotine and blood. One of the greatest songs ever that does more in its few minutes than most novels are able in 500 something pages.

4/
The Devil’s Waitin’ by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

This song was a revelation; to use that phrase of Eliot’s, it communicates before it’s understood. We have war, definitely, prison, Jesus, the devil and judgement and it’s a potent brew. A singsong melody over an open tuned acoustic that could belong to any time, it’s man’s soul as a civil war that never ends. You taste gunpowder, hear the iron rattle of chains and just hope that drunken preacher in the next cell’s right with all that forgiveness talk.

5/
Dead Man’s Hands by Jerry Sword

If it hadn’t been for a B-movie of dubious quality, I would never have discovered this, a song that has meant more to me than perhaps any other. I found it stuck in the middle of the soundtrack, like gold in a handful of ash. For a long time I couldn’t find it and had to put the movie in, queue up the specific scene, just to listen. It’s genuinely haunting, with a sliding country riff moving between a shadow and the sun while the song’s narrator sings “I don’t know if there’s a heaven, but I’ll do everything I can….” It’s an amazingly beautiful song, filled with regret, longing, the dust-blown blue eyes of lost love, but with hope too…that maybe things you’ve lost don’t stay lost forever.

6/
Round Here by Counting Crows

I heard this song first 21 years ago and saying that so bluntly, yeah, it makes me feel antique, but I still remember the thrill of recognition in the song’s wistful longing. Its catalogue of souls grown desolate in the machinery of the world, still cling to the hope there is somebody out there who will understand, something we all hope at some point or another. I hear the guitar ring out, and it’s that afternoon again, walking in the black dust beside the rail lines and a river rainbow-stained with petrol, where I first heard it.

7/
Ruby’s Arms by Tom Waits

Possibly the saddest song ever written; a man’s leaving his love, because he knows he’ll always let her down; he climbs out into the rain and is so emotionally broken he can only concentrate on the tactile physical details of his world. Then, with the rain falling down on him he finally allows himself to feel “Jesus Christ, this goddamn rain, I’ll never kiss your lips again, or break your heart.” Perfect.

8/
It’s the end of the world as we know it by R.E.M.

It’s the combination of Michael Stipe’s scattershot zeitgeist capturing poetry and that pounding rhythm; it really could be the end of the world and we wouldn’t care. There’s a real anxiety here, but a hope too, the hope that you only find after an absolute resignation.

9/
Radioactive by Kings of Leon

Kings of Leon are one of those bands, when they’re off, they’re really off, but when they hit that golden driving power all great music has, there’s nobody better in the world. This is one of those songs, filled with the woodsmoke and beer stained beauty of the rural south; a song of some kind of redemption at the end of a red dust trail. Nobody does that better than these guys.

10/
Shenandoah (traditional)

My favourite song; a song of yearning for a home that might never have been but which you still feel the longing for; as old as the battlefield of Shiloh and as young as whatever’s topping the charts right now, a truly beautiful and timeless work, and like the best ballads, anonymous. The greatest art grows out of the conscience of a whole time, from somewhere deep and everlasting in the hearts and hopes of ordinary people toiling in the fading sunlight of history, and that’s what I hear whenever those first notes start; the longing for something we’ve lost.

Gareth SparkGareth Spark writes dark fiction from and about the moors and rustbelts of the North East where grudges are savoured, shotguns are cheap and people get by in the economic meltdown any way they can. His work has appeared at Near 2 The Knuckle, Out Of The Gutter, Deep Water Literary Journal and Shotgun Honey.