Ten Songs by Michael Bell

1: John Adams: Shaker Loops (Trembling and Shaking)
I realise that I’ve started a list of ten songs with something that technically isn’t a ‘song’ but as I grow older, the type of music I listen to and the effect it has on me has changed. This is a good example, because the best time I have to listen to music is during the 3-4 hours a night while I’m painting. This piece has a restless, rumbling pace and energy that makes me engage with what I’m doing and get down to business. Over the last 2 years I must have played this every day in my studio and I still haven’t grown tired of it.

2: Joy Division: Disorder
Considering Unknown Pleasures is probably my favourite album by anyone, ever! You’d think there would be a good story about how I came to hear it; the truth is it was pure chance. I bought it in an HMV ‘3 CDs for £10’ offer, after choosing 2 albums, I looked for something new and I saw a cover that really caught my eye, just a set of shimmering sound waves in a black void, I looked at the back and there were no track listings, just the band’s name and the album title. So I bought it, got on the bus, arrived home and put it on…….From the first few seconds of hearing this track I was hooked, like never before, by any other band.

3: Radiohead: Idioteque
This is a truly menacing piece of 21st century blues; savage, angry and desperate, all at the same time. I had this playing loudly on repeat when I had a moment of realisation whilst painting many years ago; I smeared, scratched and mauled a half-finished canvas into my first real painting ‘Caught’. Ever since then I’ve played this to remind me of that feeling of being excited by something I had created for the first time.

4: Andrew Bird: Hole In The Ocean Floor
Andrew Bird is an artist who I’ve only come across in the last couple of years, but he’s quickly become one of my favourite contemporary musicians. His work doesn’t really fall into any straight forward genre; it effortlessly draws from every time and style, with wit and faultless musical attention to detail. This track is my favourite from his last album ‘Break It Yourself’ which is a work of art from beginning to end.

5: Patrick Wolf – Wind in the Wires
There’s a strange irony around this particular song for me, as the lyrics talk about the encroaching grip and pace of the modern world and; A) This was that last CD single I ever bought and now that format has completely disappeared!. And B) I bought the single from an independent record shop, a once important part of our high street that now seems as antiquated as a blacksmith’s! Patrick Wolf’s more recent work has been a bit too cheery and bombastic for my taste, but this song typifies his brilliant early work, which mixed elements of classical and English folk with some electronic touches.

6: Washington Phillips: Take your burden to the Lord
6 or 7 years ago, I was sat in my car with mate Ian Allen, we were playing music, smoking and talking shite, like we normally did on an evening. I’d put on a mix CD from a music magazine (I can’t remember which one) and this was the last track, as it played we both sat there in a silent awe, taking in this strange, spooky relic from another age. I love it because it embodies a world view that doesn’t exist today, it seems that devotionally inspired art, of any kind, no longer has a place in our time, but hearing this is a brief reminder of the beauty that someone’s belief give to their music.

7: Tino Rossi: Catari, Catari
In an attempt to escape living in Hull/East Yorkshire, I briefly moved to York for a year, where I held down a truly demeaning office job and lived in a depressing bedsit. During this rather regrettable chapter in my life, I had two things that kept me sane, the visits from my girlfriend (now my wife) and losing myself in books from the library and music. Listening to Tino Rossi would always transport me, from my dreary surroundings, to world of smoke filled cafes on winding Parisian streets and black and white movies from the 1930’s.

8: Nat King Cole: Nature Boy
I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that (for me) Nat King Cole is the greatest male vocalist who has ever lived and Nature Boy is the best thing he ever recorded. For as far back as I can remember, I’ve known and loved everything about this song, the arrangement is like something by Rachmaninoff, perfectly setting the mood for the haunting lyrics about an ageless child who personifies nature and wisdom. This piece of lucid and timeless music is a real oddity, especially when you consider that it was recorded in 1948, by someone whose music is now often thought of as easy listening.

9: Nina Simone: I Loves You Porgy
I have to thank my wife Claire for opening up my taste in music to now include ‘musicals’ (although technically, Porgy and Bess which this is taken from is an opera, not a musical, but that’s splitting hairs). When we first started living together, we went to London to see Porgy and Bess at the Savoy Theatre, needless to say we felt very posh and sophisticated, but my strongest memory of the night was of us both welling up with tears when this song was performed.

10: Arvo Part – Speigel Im Speigel
I started this list with an instrumental work, so it only seems fitting to end on one. Words genuinely fail me when it comes to Speigel Im Speigel, how a composition can be so utterly simple and yet so moving is beyond me. It seems to me that Arvo Part was put on earth, to make being alive more bearable for those who listen to his works.

Mike BellMichael Bell is a 30 year old artist, who lives with his wife Claire in Beverley. He exhibits his artwork under the utterly pretentious pseudonym of BAEL. His artistic output mainly consists of paintings that depict angry, naked people. His only claim to fame is that when he worked at GAP in York, Vic Reeves came in and asked him if they sold ‘Boys Pyjamas’? Sadly they didn’t. – His artwork can be found on his website: http://www.bael.co.uk


Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 12

No. 12 – Joy Division – Closer (1980)


Punk was all over by 1977. The Pistols had imploded and The Clash had developed their sound far beyond three chords and snarling, but in its slipstream a genre emerged that came to be called new-wave, and in 1979 three ground-breaking, visionary albums by British bands would leave a slow burning legacy that would infiltrate not just the UK, but America as well.

The first was Metal Box by Public Image Ltd, John Lydon’s big fuck-you to the punk scene, drawing heavily from dub reggae and krautrock and featuring some of the most bizarre vocals ever groaned and screeched; the second was 154 by Wire, an incredibly bleak experimental tour de force of dense guitars and conceptual lyrics; and the third was Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division, by turns ferocious and spectral, with striking minimalist artwork and a singer who did this on stage. Joy Division sounded like no other band before or since.

Closer, (their second album, pronounced cloz-er) was my introduction to Joy Division. It took me a long time to buy it, as it’s terrifying reputation went before it. It was like buying Schindler’s List on DVD; am I willing to sit down and deliberately make myself feel bad for the duration of this work? I bought it, and the artwork alone is enough to put you in a seriously sombre mood; the nine tracks on the disc however, form a granite monument of complete and utter misery.

The first track, Atrocity Exhibition, is a genuine contender for ugliest song of all time. The sound is so fractured and spiky and generally unpleasant that it is truly difficult to listen to, but some primeval force keeps you hooked. From what I can gather from the cryptic lyric moaned over the military drum beat and needling sheets of guitar, it is a song about bull fighting, although its entirely possible that Curtis is using that as a metaphor for God knows what, the repeated mantra “This is the way, step inside,” putting in place the voyeuristic element that permeates the whole album.

Curtis as a lyricist is unparalleled as one who looks into himself so deeply. No-one else has ever lived and died, quite literally, by his words as much as he did. Yet the flipside is very difficult to admire. Its obvious to all who’ve read up on him that he was a petulant, self-obsessed, narcissistic, ego-maniacal, morally-contemptuous little boy who lived his life like a play. In the Eternal, nine months after his wife gave birth to their child, he sings “Cry like a child, these tears make me older, With children my time is so wastefully spent, Burden to keep… Accept like a curse, An unlucky deal.” Imagine being his daughter, who will now be roughly my age and hearing those lyrics knowing that your dad has written them. How terrible.

Elsewhere, Isolation shows that the seeds of New Order were already in their embryonic phase, yet New Order never had a song that contained the lyric “Mother I’ve tried please believe me, I’m doing the best that I can, I’m ashamed of the things I’ve been put through, I’m ashamed of the person I am.” Heart and Soul and the skull-crushingly intense Twenty-Four Hours are absolutely petrifying pieces of music and also showcase the fact that Peter Hook was becoming a very, very good bass player. The Eternal and Decades are songs that sound like they’re being sung from a medieval crypt, under a foggy cemetery, and we can only stand at the top of the spiral staircase and listen to the pain that drifts up, not quite daring to descend. The lyrics are unbelievable. This man was twenty-two years old when this was recorded. These are biblical, statuesque images that can rival anything in The Divine Comedy or Paradise Lost, and only Leonard Cohen has written anything like them in the field of popular music. “Just for one moment I heard somebody call, look beyond the day in hand, there’s nothing there at all.” “Here are the young men, a weight on their shoulders…. We knocked on the door of Hell’s darker chambers, pushed to the limits we dragged ourselves in.”

Ian Curtis hung himself in 1980 at the age of twenty three. Twenty fucking three.

Best Tracks: Twenty Four Hours, The Eternal, Decades

Best Moment: 0:50 into The Eternal; the piano just adds to the weight of a song that is already too much to bare.

Like this? Try:
Spiderland by Slint, 1991

profile b and wAllen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014