Most of the things I love in life - conversation, books, friends, clothes, art, adventures, walks, coffee – form subjects I’ve written about at one point or another. It’s easy to draw observations and ideas from those areas I’m interested in or relish evaluating. Yet then there are all the other things I enjoy hugely that barely get a mention: such as music. Beyond the odd post or two fan-girling over Kate Bush (and a tweet every few months re-stating my adoration of Nick Drake), it’s not a subject I often hold up to the light of a 700 (or so) word article.
I think this may be partly because I know my own areas of strength, and writing about chords and key-changes isn’t one of them. I function on a gut-response level - or maybe ear-response - gravitating towards those musicians whose work just, well, works. I don’t know a better way to describe it. A combination of melody, beat, lyrics and whatever alchemy of voices and instruments really does something. Could be 60s pop or folky singer-songwriters or prog rock (hi King Crimson) or Motown or Electro-swing or chart hits (hello Beyonce) or Electronica (apparently that’s what Bonobo and Morcheeba are?) or Indie Rock or Jazz or... Ok, now I’m just quoting the genres you can find on iTunes, and that’s not exactly known for nuance – especially as it seems to have given up on me and lumped most of my music together under the vague banner of ‘Alternative’.
Yet, recently I was thinking about the divide between those whose music I listen to, knowing relatively little about the individuals themselves (beyond their names), and those for whom I have an extra layer of appreciation because I admire their intelligence/ ethos/ outlook/ aesthetic. Indeed, often enough I’ve probably sought out interviews and reviews, and of this latter group, there are a fair few.
In fact, enough to play the game of ‘which musicians do you think you might have a great conversation with over a coffee, and why?’ I began by excluding all the ‘greats’ who would cause much trembling simply by being in the same room as them – such as Kate Bush, David Bowie and Joni Mitchell. (And in any case it would just become a love-in of decades past). So – it’s a very enjoyable displacement activity when I really ought to be doing something else – this is the initial list I came up with; musicians who come across as being really interesting people as well as creators, who I could imagine being very good company in a cafe…
Hozier – I spent lots of this summer past listening to ‘Take me to Church’ to get me into a writing frame of mind. Not sure how or why a critique of institutional dogma achieved this, but something clicked. Really though it’s the combination of salient political observations in both music videos and interviews, a range of influences from Oscar Wilde to Joyce, an obviously smart and enquiring mind, and a lot of really gorgeous, charged songs. Plus a seeming lack of ego given his rather zippy rise to success. Can’t wait to see him perform in December.
Lorde – Mainly for all the reasons I articulated here when I dressed up as her. To summarise: her common sense comments on feminism, her position as a smart, outspoken young woman willing to challenge others (see this Guardian interview), her intellectual and creative curiosity, and the small fact that she only just turned 18 and put together the Hunger Games: Mockingjay soundtrack, plus I might be ever so slightly jealous – in a good sense, as seeing that kind of achievement is always a good spur.
Sam Lee – I’ve seen him live twice, and really love/ respect/ am slightly awed by his interest in re-working, performing, and preserving traditional songs from gypsy/Romany/traveller communities (there's a wonderful piece discussing the process here). These words and melodies, handed down from one generation to another as aural heirlooms, are collated and discussed for hours before being given another life by Lee. The results are by turns rousing, bittersweet and moving. Oh and he began working on his music whilst working as a Burlesque dancer.
Moko – I met her briefly once after a fantastic panel discussion last year in Oxford on women in the media. She was captivating to listen to - talking about everything from her gospel choir background to her position as a young woman of colour in the music industry. Plus, the hair, the hair, the hair. See her interview with Rookie here.
Bat for Lashes – Natasha Khan’s multiple visual personas, wide-ranging artistic influences and interests, and strong awareness of image are all pretty fascinating. Plus, there’s the penchant for gardening, various honest observations on the sometimes challenging process of getting an album together, and an impressive number of strands to her output from video-making to clothes designs.
Kate Tempest – I mulled over including her, but hell, she was shortlisted for a Mercury, so why not? Besides, a few Fridays ago she was responsible for one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. It was a jubilant mixture of lyricism, sharp-witted observations and music that had us dancing (and sweating) very energetically. Added kudos to anyone whose central message for the audience to take away was “cultivate some radical fucking empathy, and check your greed.” After the gig, I spoke to a lovely English teacher who mentioned how he’d used some of her videos to get his year 9 class enthusiastic about Shakespeare – how wonderful is that?
St Vincent – I’m not quite sure how to summarize Annie Clark, because it’s tough to tell what I think is cooler – the innovation in her music, the fact she’s obviously both intellectually and creatively imposing (in the best way), her absolutely ace guitar playing, her attention to design detail (see her description here of the thought that went into the cover of her last album) or the quality of her writing, be it song lyrics or music commentary. Also, extra points for her cameos in Portlandia.
Kate Nash – A distinctive aesthetic and playful, rather joyous outfit choices, and various very cool things done or said about women’s rights (think the Rock n Roll for Girls After School Club, her recently launched Girl Gang initiative and her partnership with Plan USA in 2013 to talk about ‘the transformative power of investing in girls’). What’s not to like?
Over to you. Who'd be on your idly dreamt up list?
Posed with my ancient iPod classic here (sadly deceased) as it just happened to look better than anything else. Had lots of fun pretending to dance around this field near our house. I'm wearing a sixties dress my mum gave me and vintage Bally men's brogues.