I was asked by The Journal Newspaper to come up with a list of my favourite songs written about my home region and/or songs that were written or performed by North East musicians.
A number of other local musicians were asked and perhaps unsurprisingly it seems most of them gave a load of Newcastle-centric song choices (‘Big River’ by Jimmy Nail was number 1). A good song no doubt, but I kind of predicted this would happen so I fancied giving the assignment a little more thought.
I focused on songs about Sunderland specifically, or songs that are directly meaningful to me (mainly because there are too many great songs to chose from purely featuring musicians from the North East).
Here’s my list of ‘Top North East Songs’:
Martin Stephenson & The Daintees - Left Us To Burn
Coal Train - Carry You On My Shoulders
Leatherface - Dead Industrial Atmosphere
Toy Dolls - Park Lane Punch Up
B>E>A>K - Stairway to Hendon
The Small Screen Light Show - Home Alone
This Ain’t Vegas - Short Term, Long Term
The Futureheads - Decent Days & Nights
That Was The Week That Was - Learn To Learn
A Love Supreme - Naill Quinn’s Disco Pants
I was asked by The Journal Culture Magazine to provide them with five songs I regularly listen to on my iPod. It was such a difficult thing do, but I finally decided on my five choices. Here they are in full:
Warren Zevon – Desperados Under The Eaves
Warren Zevon is my favourite songwriter of all time, capable of writing painfully honest songs that are at once caustic and tender. This song from his eponymous 1976 album wryly describes a descent into alcoholism and despair whilst renting a hotel room in LA. The pathos is palpable; however, the song is lifted by the odd lyric lamenting that even in the event of a massive natural disaster Zevon knows he must still eventually pay his hotel bill. It is also the only song I know of that uses the hum of an air conditioner as a chorus.
Feist – Anti-Pioneer
Leslie Feist is a Canadian songwriter most famous for having her songs appear on various TV adverts, but her catchy and often achingly beautiful music is so much more than window dressing. Her intelligent, delicate and haunting lyrics as well her inimitable vocal style are major inspirations of mine. Found on the 2011 album ‘Metals’, Anti-Pioneer details the seemingly fatalistic inevitability of relationships from the perspective of someone who has almost given up on love after writing too many songs about doomed affairs.
The Blue Nile – Downtown Lights
An ‘Alternative/Sophisti-Pop’ band from Glasgow, The Blue Nile are renowned for their perfectionist approach to the recording process, releasing just four albums since 1981, and for their ability to create warm, intense and emotive soundscapes with traditionally ‘cold’ electronic instruments. Paul Buchanan’s everyman vocals, exquisite phrasing and simplistic yet powerful lyrics are immaculately layered over the profoundly atmospheric and tense arrangement of this 6 and a half minute song. ‘Downtown Lights’ is a stunning song that perfectly paints a vivid account of the psychological turmoil and uncertainty associated with the highs and lows of modern love. I see this piece of music as an example of master-level song-writing; something to aspire to.
Jo Stafford – Shenandoah
Jo Stafford is probably the last person most people would suspect a man in his 20s listens to on his iPod, but I’m completely obsessed with her astonishingly pure voice and her artifice-free, subtle and beautiful songs. The first female to reach number 1 in the UK single charts, Stafford’s career spanned an impressive 50 years. Her 1950 album ‘American Folk Songs’ is one of my favourites, featuring a heart-breaking version of the traditional folk song ‘Oh Shenandoah’. I can’t do this piece of music justice in writing. Keep in mind her version was performed in one take, with a full orchestra. Simply phenomenal.
This Aint Vegas – Promotion
This Aint Vegas were a band from my village in Sunderland, I went to school with them and they were the first real local band I 100% connected with. They opened my eyes to the very real possibility of making music. Up until the age of 11 or so I’d only known the hegemony of the pop charts. I thought you had to be plucked from obscurity by some Svengali to even consider making a record but these lads from school did it all themselves, and they did it brilliantly. Promotion is a brief but perfect album opener that says to me that if you work hard enough and stay true to your ideals you can create something truly worthwhile.