Listening without prejudice

TallShips

As previously revealed, I took home around 20 pre-release CDs – mostly singles; a couple of albums – from my  6 Music pigeonhole last week. I uploaded them all at the weekend and have been listening intently on my ancient iPod ever since. (I’ve noticed that as iPods get smaller, headphones are getting bigger and bigger; my iPod is massive, and my headphones tiny. I’m no follower of fashion!) Anyway, I counted 19 new songs, most of them coming out in February or March. Few had actual paper press releases attached, and if they had information on a sticky label affixed by their plugger, I deliberately avoided reading it, so as to be able to listen to these artists, mostly unknown to me by name, without prejudice. Sometimes, seeing a picture of a band can influence the way you feel about their song.

Now, it’s inevitable that I won’t like everything, or even the majority, in a mass listening session like this, but let’s take out the artists I’d heard of first: Johnny Marr, The Vaccines, Low and The Wonder Stuff. I continue to be underwhelmed to the point of toothache by the Vaccines, who are doing very nicely without me anyway, so I shan’t lose sleep over our lack of a connection. I am already mad about The Wonder Stuff, in person and on record, and fully approve of their From The Midlands With Love project, whose final addition is Planet Earth and Get Up! Johnny Marr’s single Upstarts is OK, confident, driving, but again, he doesn’t need my support. Minnesota’s Low are minor legends, and their new single Plastic Cup is slow, lilting, melancholy and lovely, and its lyric actually has content (“the cup will probably be here long after we have gone”), which is something to cherish in this grey age. Oh, and ex-Beta Bandsman Steve Mason is also well established, and his new single Fight Them Back is effortlessly brilliant.

Since working with Josie two years ago (is it really? yes it is), I have become reconnected with new music, and new artists. So let us praise those songs by bands and songwriters about whom I know next to nothing. The pic at the top is of Tall Ships in action. As I type, I know I really love their coruscating but joyous single, T=0, but I have yet to look them up. They appear English, but who knows? Theirs is the real find of the batch, along with Wanderlust by Cloud Boat. (Nautical theme entirely coincidental.) Again, I know not who Cloud Boat are, or is. But the song is like a mini-symphony, even the three-minute radio edit; I’m getting James Blake, I’m getting My Bloody Valentine, I’m getting early Cocteau Twins … I’m getting something so delicate it makes a kind of mockery of what “a single” is, or should be. I have just found this image of Cloud Boat. Of course they’re in a church.

CloudBoat

Of the rest, I was initially quite taken by the sheer bombast of Pompeii by Bastille, even though it seems to be squarely aimed at the charts with its autotuned vocal and singalong chorus. Far cooler seeming are Io Echo, whose Ministry Of Love has real atmosphere, with female vocals far away in the distance, and more than a hint of Goth in its distorted guitars. Disco Sucks by The Computers has a good title, and is driven by old-fashioned rawk grit. I’m guessing they’re American, and very glad that Jack White came along a few years ago. Further up my street is the driving Ocean by Coasts (heavens: more water!), although, again, it sounds as if it has its eye on the post-Metronomy/xx prize. Also good is On The Spines of Old Cathedrals by Shrag, as it sounds like it was released in the early 90s. Spiky male-female vocals, apologetic drumming, but real energy. Unlike Bastille and Coasts, they don’t sound like they care too much whether or not you dance to it in a club.

I won’t mention the new bands whose tracks I didn’t latch onto. What would be the point of that? Not everything is for everyone. And anyway, I seem to have liked exactly half of the songs I uploaded. That’s pretty cool.

And now, to complete my experiment, I shall look up the bands I like, and provide links to their websites.

Tall Ships are from Falmouth, it appears. (I once lectured at Falmouth University – what a fantastic place.) There is another, American band called The Tall Ships, which is unhelpful, and the phrase “tall ships” mainly takes you to tall ships if you tap it into a search engine, but their MySpace page is here, the video is here, and their product is here.
Cloud Boat have their Facebook page (I really can’t get on with Facebook, but you may be more conversant with its workings), and the video for the full-length version of Wanderlust is here. If I was a band, I’d have a website that just showed a picture of me, and said where I was from. (Follow them on Twitter here.)
Coasts are a mystery. I don’t have the disc in front of me, so can’t even check the sticker. Look them up and find nothing as I did. Maybe I’ve got their name wrong. Still like the song!
Shrag have just announced that they’re calling it a day. Brilliant. This is me really getting in at the ground floor – they’ve only released three albums and about ten singles without me noticing. Still, I like the song, their blog is here, and they even have a Wikipedia entry. I’m going to seek out their last album Canines, from which the single is taken. It looks brilliant:
SHRAG

Io Echo are easier to find, as their name is unique. They have a website, and although I can see that they are a duo, and look quite amazing, it doesn’t say where they’re from. They seem to be very new, with a debut album to come. At least they didn’t split up before I “discovered” them. (Their MySpace doesn’t say where they’re from either.)
Bastille seems to be one man. He’s British and his MySpace page is here. Apparently Huw Stephens likes the song, so it might be a hit. I have no interest in the charts or predicting hits.
The Computers turn out to be British, from Exeter in fact, signed to Fierce Panda, and they look like they wish it was the 1970s. Good on them for that, and for looking like a band. They seem to run a club night called Disco Sucks. I don’t think they have a website, but this is them.

The following artists are well-established, but I liked their songs, and will provide links anyway, since I seem to be running an online fanzine all of a sudden. Steve Mason is here. Low are here. And The Wonder Stuff are here.

Sorry to namedrop but I was having a heated conversation with genial Martin Freeman at the Radio Times party on Tuesday night. He’s a massive music fan, as you probably know – indeed, I first met him when we were teamed up on the Radio 4 music quiz All The Way From Memphis, and had him on Roundtable a number of times – and only a few years younger than me, so we’ve both experienced that awful realisation that modern music doesn’t quite do it for you in the same way that modern music did in the past. Martin wanted to know if it was an age thing, something we all inevitably go through, or whether his feelings about modern music have something to do with the poor state of modern music. I think it’s a bit of both, but more of the former.

True, the singles charts are unrecognisable to me now, with everybody “featuring” on everybody else’s record and slick R&B and autotuned identipop dominant, but without Top of the Pops, I’m disconnected from them anyway. (If it was on, I guarantee I’d watch it every week, and know more.) I’m not in any way disinterested in new music, as I hope this experiment has proved, but even though it’s easier than ever to access music, for free, I find I need a curator, a filter, a third party to keep me up to date. And I have a pigeonhole! (I think Spotify is a smashing thing, but it’s too big. Where to start?)

What do others think? In the meantime, I say hooray for Tall Ships, and Cloud Boat, and Shrag, and Steve Mason, and Low, and The Computers, and a band I’ve not yet heard of who are going to blow me away. (I also got the Palma Violets debut album, which I’m still investigating, but I liked them on Later as they seemed to be young men who’d heard the first Clash album)

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Writer’s blog: Week 4, Thursday

BlogWk4Wed23Jan

This picture is a cheat, as I took it yesterday, Wednesday. But it is packed with significance, of a sort. On Monday, as documented, I travelled to Dorset and back on the train, about 12 hours round trip, door to door. That was pretty unusual for a working day, and a pleasant diversion. I haven’t travelled outside of London since then. Most days – and this is why I don’t inflict a daily diary on anybody – I’m in the British Library, or at the Radio Times office, or shuttling between meetings and work engagements in and around Central London, at the peak of activity either writing, or talking.

How interesting is any of this? How interesting in anybody’s daily life? As it happens, later today I am catching another train, this time to Northampton, as I’m giving a lecture/Q&A to journalism students at the University of Northampton tomorrow. It being a careers-based talk, I shall be roadtesting Andrew Collins: 25 Years in Showbiz, or Indecision: a Career Choice. There will be slides. I don’t write these talks, as such, but I shape them in advance, and use props, or images, to punctuate them and act as guides for me. I don’t like them to be too rigid; I prefer to roll with the reaction of the audience – if, that is, I can gauge it. Students can sometimes be inscrutable, but most are at an age when “cool” drives their personalities. I know this. I was one.

Here’s how my life works: I do a string of low-paid jobs and then, occasionally, if the stars align (fingers always crossed), I get a higher-paying job for which I actually have to block out weeks or months in order to fulfill the commitment. It’s not unusual for a self-employed person to exist in a permanent state of rollercoasting. A talk at a university is not a high-paying job, but I like doing them, they keep me in practice for public speaking, and it’s Northampton, so I can visit my parents and claim back the modest train fare. I am looking forward to both bits.

The snow’s almost melted in London. I’m glad to see the back of it. It breaks my heart to see how weak this country’s infrastructure is. God help us if there’s a war.

Yesterday, I did two low-paid jobs, and I managed to group them together so that I could do one, followed directly by the other – one was in Broadcasting House, the other in Western House, both BBC buildings, and next door neighbours. For both jobs, I was being interviewed for the radio, but pre-recorded, which means you say a hell of a lot more than anybody listening to the radio will ever hear. For the first, I was interviewed about the film Jaws. When the programme airs on Radio 4, I’ll let you know. This was fun. I had my childhood diaries from 1976 and 1977, so could revisit how, as an 11-12-year-old, I was affected by Jaws, long before I actually saw it. (I saw it in March 1977, when I was old enough to see an “A” certificate.)

SelectSuedecoversmall

Next stop: 6 Music, where I was interviewed by Steve Lamacq’s producer Phil about Britpop – specifically the April 1993 “Yanks Go Home” issue of Select, on which I worked – for an ongoing history project about which I’m sure all will be revealed. I am an interviewer’s dream and worst nightmare: ask me a question and off I go. Especially if it involves remembering. I am good at remembering out loud. (Coincidentally, this hallowed issue of Select is one of my props for tomorrow’s talk at the University.)

BlogWk4Wed23Jan2

Anyway, the gaps between my visits to 6 Music are lengthening. The last time I was in, before Christmas, was to appear on Steve’s show when he was doing the TV Themes World Cup. Before that? October, when I literally just dropped by to empty my pigeonhole, which kindly pluggers and PRs still keep topped up with pre-release CDs by bands I’ve usually never heard of. It’s nice to be remembered by them. And I left 6 Music with about 20 singles, all of which I intend to listen to, out of gratitude for being given them, and out of eagerness to hear something new that I like. I get a Tweet at least once a week asking when Josie Long and I are back on 6 Music. Never, I fear. We had a great run in the six months leading up to Christmas 2011, but have never been asked back, which, after a calendar year, is a fairly easy to read sign.

I sincerely hope 6 Music will get me back in 2013 to emergency plumb for one of their regulars. It’s the best place on earth to broadcast from. But here’s the scary bit: although people I know at 6 Music are always cheery and pleasant to me when I venture back into the office, each time I go in, more faces have appeared whom I don’t know. This is bound to happen. Eventually, all my contacts there will erode, and my name will fall off the whiteboard. It happens. You’d be amazed how many people who don’t listen regularly to the station still think I have a regular slot on the network. (The guys from BBC Bristol who interviewed me about Jaws did.) You have to move on.

Remember the theme of my talk? Indecision. It’s indecision that’s driven and stunted my career at the same time. Not being able to decide which path to take – or to commit to one branch of the entertainment industry – has lead to an enormous range of work over those 25 years, but it has also prevented me from specialising in anything. I accept that as my destiny.

BlogWk4Thurs24Jan

And here I am, in the British Library canteen again, contemplating that very conundrum. Any questions? (That’s what I’ll be asking at the University of Northampton tomorrow.)

Twenty Twelve: Music

2012BretonOtherPeoplesProblems600Gb admiral-fallow-tree-bursts-in-snow BalticFleetTowers Dexys_One_Day_I'm_Going_To_Soar JackAdaptorISawAGhost LanaDelRayBornToDie MilkMaidMostlyNo PeteWilliamsSee rustybearSourceToTheSea the-heartbreaks The-Twilight-Sad-No-One-Can-Ever-Know

I cannot lie. I am out well of touch with modern popular music. I watched the Christmas Top of The Pops on Christmas Day and found much of it either underwhelming or actually irritating. Of the artists who’d evidently had hits this year, I obviously recognised the big-name artists – Coldplay, Florence, Robbie Williams, Girls Aloud – and I’d seen Emeli Sandé on the Olympics, plus I did well with the middle-aged musicians on the Christmas number one for the Hillsborough families, but a lot of the newer artists were just seemingly interchangeable young men and women singing in the same, Autotuned, post-X-Factor style.

I speak as a middle-aged man. I don’t lose sleep over my disconnect with what’s in the charts. Since Top Of The Pops was taken off-air, I’ve had no connection with the charts anyway – I assume Rihanna is having a hit at any given time, but have little idea of who’s placing where in the Top 40. (I could recite the Top 30 from any week in 1977 of course, thanks to the endangered TOTP re-runs, but that speaks volumes.) As such, having worked up a very good Top 11 albums, and a healthy list of 17 tracks I loved this year, I find that I seem to exist in a parallel universe.

There are one or two big names – Lana Del Ray, Dexys, The Wonder Stuff – but most of the artists below I’ve discovered through being sent their records by the pluggers who service 6 Music and kindly keep me on their lists, even though I don’t have a regular show. So thanks to those dedicated individuals really. Hip hop has passed me by this year, not least because so much of it has been swallowed up by R&B, which I cannot connect with in any meaningful way. (I tried the much-admired Frank Ocean album: nothing.) I’m certain I’ve missed a number of albums that I might love, but that’s the case every December when I compile these lists.

These are very pure inventories, in that they are not influenced by fashion, or success, or even backstory (with many of the bands I don’t even know where they come from or what they look like). This really is just music I have listened to a lot this year. I have supplied label names with the LPs, but not the tracks, as names of labels don’t really have much bearing on downloads, right? It’s interesting, and organic, that three out of my Top 11 albums are on Fat Cat. Well done, Fat Cat!

ALBUMS 2012

1 LANA DEL RAY Born To Die | Interscope
2 THE TWILIGHT SAD No One Can Ever Know | Fat Cat
3 PETE WILLIAMS See |Basehart
4 BRETON Other People’s Problems | Fat Cat
5 MILK MAID Mostly No | Fat Cat
6 THE HEARTBREAKS Funtimes | Banquet
7 JACK ADAPTOR I Saw A Ghost | Supple Pipe
8 RUSTY BEAR Source To The Sea |Mollusc
9 ADMIRAL FALLOW Tree Bursts In Snow | Nettwerk
10 DEXYS One Day I’m Going To Soar | BMG
11 BALTIC FLEET Towers | Blow Up

TRACKS 2012

THE WONDER STUFF Far, Far Away
THIS MANY BOYFRIENDS Tina Weymouth (from album This Many Boyfriends)
FLATS Country
THE WINTER OLYMPICS I Prefer The Early Stuff
SHIMMERING STARS Into The Sea (this may well have come out in 2011, but I listened to it a lot this year)
A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS Onwards To The Wall (Onwards To The Wall EP)
THE NEIGHBOURHOOD Sweater Weather
MEURSAULT Dull Spark
FUNERAL SUITS All Those Friendly People
FOXES Youth
FOREST FIRE Future Shadows
ESCAPISTS Burial (Burial EP)
CITIZENS! Reptile
CEREMONY Hysteria
LITTLE BOOTS Every Night I Say A Prayer
KIMBRA Warrior
RACE HORSES My Year Abroad
BINARY Prisoner (I know for a fact that this came out in November 2011, but I didn’t hear it until this year, and I’m still listening to it now – I have literally no idea who Binary are!)

Naturally, if you want to recommend something – especially hip hop – I’m all ears. Here’s to 6 Music giving me some more work in 2013 so my drip to modern music isn’t completely cut off. (I so miss my old 6 Music show with Josie Long. I think after a full year of not being asked back, we must always think of it in the past tense.)

Flanders’ field

Sometimes, no matter how jaded I get, work and pleasure cross over to such a degree, it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins. I’m not claiming that filling in for Shaun Keaveny at Breakfast on 6 Music is the hardest job in the world, but it is a job. Yesterday, though, the “job” included talking to Harry Shearer for the best part of an hour and a quarter, interrupted only by records, news and music news. He was ostensibly in to promote his new album Can’t Take A Hint, his latest collection of satirical songs, which you can read about here. But Harry is a generous soul, and is more than happy to tangent off and talk about the other stuff from his long and illustrious career, which goes back to being a child actor in the 50s, and snakes from pioneering radio comedy music group The Credibility Gap through Saturday Night Live (which he hated), Spinal Tap and The Simpsons to the syndicated radio show that is still running after almost 30 years, Le Show (which is really worth seeking out in podcast form via iTunes or other means – you can also stream from Harry’s website).

He’s been a fan and supporter of 6 Music since the very start, and, it transpires, used to listen to my Teatime show in the early days as his breakfast show in LA. (I must admit, I’m glad I didn’t know this at the time. Harry Shearer? Listening to my show? I would have had the vapours.) Anyway, I heard about this long after my show had ended, via Shaun, when Harry came on as a guest. After that bombshell, I was dying to shake his hand, so when he last came into the building – again, to talk to Shaun – I frankly loitered. On that occasion, he was in to promote his documentary about the real causes of the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, The Big Uneasy (Harry lives in New Orleans and has a special connection to the place). This is our first meeting:

Our second meeting was yesterday. Because of the Olympics, all cabs are being booked early, so Harry was delivered to 6 Music about an hour before he was required to speak for his supper. An easygoing fellow, he didn’t seem to mind. But you can’t have Harry Shearer sitting on the wrong side of the glass in the green room while you are live on air. This is not a time to stand on Breakfast ceremony (guests go on-air at approximately 09.10 and must be dispatched before the 09.30 news) – so we had Harry in at 08.45 and he stayed until the end of the show at 10.00, more than happy to keep yakkin’, and to add that all-important third voice to Matt Everitt’s music news bulletin. (Matt is on the left in the big photo above.)

Talking of voices, as an illustrious member of the Simpsons voice cast, Harry must dread hearing the words, “Do Mr Burns.” I was trying to think of a subtle, postmodern, ironic way of getting him to do Mr Burns, but I didn’t have to. He dropped into the voice, without prompting, to wish a listener a happy 41st birthday. I think he did it because I didn’t say, “Do Mr Burns.” Anyway, you can listen again to the entire show, including the Harry Shearer Hour, on iPlayer until next Tuesday. The podcast, which includes the best of Harry, is also available for a week. (Cough. It’s no longer a “podcast”, it’s a “download”, let’s get the Stalinist BBC terminology right.)

Oh, and he did a private Ned Flanders for our producer Claire. It’s a memory she will forever cherish. Harry Shearer: one of the good guys. And more than a one-man Burns unit.

We like it when our friends become successful

On Monday night, 6 Music won UK National Station Of The Year at the Sony Radio Awards. None of your rubbish, and about time, too. We’d sort of half-expected a nomination in the immediate wake of our pardon from execution in 2011, but we were overlooked in the heat of that particular moment and understandably half-wondered if we’d ever win. (If not then, when?) I say “we”, even though I have not been a permanent presenter on the network since 2007, as I am still made to feel part of the family by the nice people pictured above, and anyway, I have my own pigeonhole! I was there at the Sonys nine years ago, at the Grosvenor House Hotel, when the first Digital Terrestrial Station Of The Year award was handed out and we lost to Saga. (Not knocking Saga, but we felt robbed.) I was also there in 2010, too, when Jarvis won the Rising Star award for the station, and Adam and Joe won the Comedy award. It was fantastic to be able to bask in reflected glory around  the 6 Music table, as I am now a friend of the station, a presenter and a fan. I wished I could have been there on Monday to drink in the crowning glory of ten years on the air.

Thanks to Christine Shanks for this photo of Jim Bob, playing some tunes on his acoustic guitar, having read from his new novel Driving Jarvis Ham at its launch in the rather less glitzy surroundings of Bookseller Crow, a gloriously independent bookshop in Crystal Palace in South East London last Thursday. This was not a case of reflected glory, as it was Jim’s night, and the book – if anything even better than his first novel, Storage Stories, but wrought in a similarly dark-whimsical style with Kurt Vonnegut-channelling illustrations – is his achievement. I was there to pay homage.

Jim and I go way back to the old Carter days, and I consider myself a delicate hybrid of fan and friend; I have certainly made it my business to promote his good works ever since in whatever modest way that I can (when his School album came out in 2006, I was able to get him and his guitar onto Radio 2 when, preposterously, I was asked to fill in for Mark Radcliffe and was allowed to choose my guest; I also think I might have made the introductions that put him inside Robin Ince’s pluralist circle of trust, which led to his glorious, 23-piece-orchestra rendition of Angelstrike! at Nine Lessons and Carols in 2009, and his subsequent casting in White and Ward’s Gutted musical at Edinburgh).

So it is that Jim flatters me by caring what I think and asking me to read his books before they are published, and I flatter him back by supplying a quote (luckily, I have liked them all so far!), and then he flatters me back by printing my quotes in his press releases. For Jarvis Ham, he and his publisher have made me especially proud by putting one of my quotes on the front cover. And it’s a hardback! I wouldn’t have missed the launch for the world. It’s slightly odd when you are a friend and a fan, I concede. But I’ve been standing and watching him play, or speak, for years, and you get used to tapping a toe and joining in the warm applause – and, in the case of that gig at the Bull & Gate in September 2010, shouting out stupid drunken things like some prick of a heckler – and that’s what happened on Thursday. It was a happy occasion. I don’t get out much in the evenings, but you make exceptions when it’s important.

Last night, Michael Legge and I had our second date in less than a week when we attended What Is Love Anyway? at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London. (He’d be at Jim’s launch, too. He is also a friend-fan.) This is the latest one-man show of another of my friends who is successful. I have seen every show Richard Herring has done since 2001, when, in Edinburgh, I saw Christ On A Bike: The First Coming. As I used to like to point out when he and I spoke more often than we do now, I paid to go and see that show twice, as I also saw it when it transferred to London. In the ensuing years, I stopped paying as he and I developed a friendship via 6 Music and Banter, and I guess it’s ironic that by the time of The Second Coming at Edinburgh in 2010, I was his comedy partner. As such I was a combination of friend and fan and partner, which is a heavy load to bear, I can tell you. The “partner” part sometimes enhanced the “friend” part and at other times seemed to destroy it, but even in our darkest days, I remained a fan.

This was the penultimate performance of What Is Love Anyway?, and this means I was seeing it at its most honed and perfected. I’m glad I waited, as I’m pretty certain this is his crowning achievement thus far. Of all ten of his shows that I have seen (many of them twice), this is the most mature, and the most ambitious, and most moving. It flows beautifully from one passage to the next, and the climax involving his grandmother, Alzheimer’s and glitter is one of the most expertly constructed of his long career.

I was proud to know him. It actually seems preposterous that he and I once stood and sat on the same stage at the Bloomsbury and entertained a similar audience. But we did. Of course, of the two of us, Richard is the one who’s still doing it, and improving, and honing, and perfecting. It’s his gig. Not mine. I had blagged some comp tickets last night, but aside from that luxury – a luxury based on a friendship that may have become a little more formal but survives as such – I was there as a fan.

It would seem churlish to hate it when your friends become successful. After all, you would hope they would share in your success. 6 Music is now so successful, its own presenters get into fights when they are nominated for the same awards, where once they weren’t nominated at all. Jim Bob is carving out a second career as a novelist – I met his literary agent and everything! – which he is able to blend with his career as a musician. Like Jim, Richard has to work hard for his money, and perform constantly, but he is building upon his existing career and he still spends way too much of his time in cheap hotels or driving on motorways at night, but he is also settling down, too, which is nice to see, as a friend.

(Funnily enough, I’ve just realised that I am a friend and fan of Michael’s too, which seems to be working out. But I would like to stress that most of my friends are just friends, very few of them work in the media or showbusiness, and thus none of us are fans of each other’s, we are just friends.)

Happy birthday to us

So, just for the record, the official left-to-right of the great 6 Music presenters photo, taken before Christmas, and almost definitive in terms of the current squad. Many have asked about the identity of certain individuals after I posted it on Twitter, so here goes:

BACK ROW: D Letts, G Garvey, S Lamacq, T Ravenscroft, S Maconie, N Metaxas, S Keaveny, M Everitt, J Cocker, L Laverne, C Matthews, M Riley, H Morgan

FRONT ROW: M Radcliffe, J Holmes, A Collins, C Charles, G Coe, T Robinson, L Kershaw, C Hawkins, M Lachlan-Young

2011: on a mission

Here, then, after much deliberation are my Top 27 LPs of 2011. I’ve placed them carefully in order of greatness, but, to dust down an old cliché, if they are in this list, they are great. (Also, by the time you are about halfway down, you can barely get a cigarette paper between them.) I know it doesn’t matter in the broader scheme of things, but I have spent the past couple of weeks intensively listening again to the contenders for the Top 10, sometimes mixing them up on my iPod so that I don’t know what’s coming next, which may be counter to the spirit of the album, but it helped me make some difficult choices. There’s nothing like the feeling when a track comes up on shuffle from a playlist comprising only your favourite albums of the year and you don’t immediately recognise it but you know you love it. That way, impartial assessment can be achieved. So …

1. Rob St. John Weald

2. Ghostpoet Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam

3. Metronomy The English Riviera

4. The Horrors Skying

5. James Blake James Blake

6. Adele 21

7. Jonnie Common Deskjob

8. The Kills Blood Pressures

9. Battles Gloss Drop

10. Elbow Build A Rocket Boys!

11. Luke Haines 9½ Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and Early 80s

12. The Wild Swans The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years

13. Katy B On A Mission

14. Death Grips Ex-Military

15. Bon Iver Bon Iver

16. Anna Calvi Anna Calvi

17. Chris T-T Disobedience

18. TV On The Radio Nine Types Of Light

19. Lymes Goodbye Bangkok

20. Little Dragon Ritual Union

21. Frank Turner England Keep My Bones

22. Los Campesinos! Hello Sadness

23. Bombay Bicycle Club A Different Kind Of Fix

24. Alex Turner Submarine

25. Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi Rome

26. Das Racist Relax

27. Martin John Henry The Other Half of Everything

Here’s what happens now: you’ll post comments beneath this list and ask me why I haven’t included an album you love, and it will be because of one of these two reasons – I haven’t heard the album, or I don’t like it enough to put it in my Top 27. So, no King Of Limbs by Radiohead or PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake. It’s just a matter of taste. There’s something very odd about liking one of the most successful albums of all time – Adele’s 21 – but I’ve had it for most of this year and I’m still enjoying listening to it. I can’t help liking so many of this year’s Mercury shortlist either – that’s just the way the cards fell. I have no desire to shock you with my obscurity or impress you with my cool. I am 46.

I do like the fact that my list is bookended by two Scottish-based solo records with a similarly pastoral/geographical looking cover, and that both are solo debuts, too. That seems entirely apt. I’ve found my love of music reinvigorated this year, as I’ve stated for the record elsewhere – by depping on 6 Music, by watching Later…, by hanging around Josie Long, and by the fact that smaller labels tend to put handwritten notes in with things, and that makes me take notice. I like that this has happened, as I was worried that I could no longer form new relationships with artists. This turns out not to be true. I’m genuinely more excited about the new than I am about the old as this year turns into another one.

Enough of my yakkin’ – let’s play some records!