Recommendations in Brief…February

I’m not sure if you could find a more perfect story for a Hollywood WWII epic than the tale of conscientious objector Desmond T. Doss in Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge. There’s lots of nice gory war set pieces, and Andrew Garfield is a perfect fit for the holier-than-thou lead role which earned him an Oscar nomination, even if the puppy dog eye thing does grate after the fifth teary close up. However the overall Go America! sentiment of the film had America F*ck Yeah going through my head afterwards.

International Rugby Referee Nigel Owens‘ Desert Island Discs had me and most of the country crying.

The documentary Matilda and Me about Tim Minchin’s hit musical is a joy if you’re a fan of the show and his work, which obviously you should be.

Finally, German comedy Toni Erdmann was absolutely bonkers. Awkward, saddening, moving and eventually hilarious and life affirming. An emotional bloody rollercoaster.

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Recommending…Will Varley

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I first heard of Will a few years ago when Frank Turner tweeted that the folk singer-songwriter had just signed up to his label, Xtra Mile recordings. By then, Will had already released two albums on an independent label, which brilliantly mixed politics, epic lyricism in songs like Weddings & Wars (with that amazing video) and King for a Kingas well as the more lighthearted stuff like I Got This Email.

The combination of those songwriting skills, and a more mature, melancholy outlook, lead to a brilliant third album called Postcards From Ursa Minor. It includes one of my favourite ever songs, The Man Who Fell To Earth, written about Jose Matada, who died trying to flee his country in the undercarriage of a Boeing 747.

Recommending…Tim Minchin’s back catalogue

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With the Broadway version of Groundhog Day inevitably about to propel Tim Minchin into the world fame stratosphere, I thought I’d look back at some of my favourite parts of the comedian, musician, lyricist and all-round-good-guy’s career so far:

  1. This performance of If I Didn’t Have You at the Policeman’s Ball back in 2008 put him in front of a massive terrestrial audience for the first time, and is my favourite of his style of fast-talking, intelligent, comedy music. The wordplay is incredible.
  2. Just when you thought Tim might be a one trick pony, Drinking White Wine in the Sun shows that he can do sad songs just as well as anybody. In particular the way he’s able to squeeze humour into what is already a near perfect sentimental song. Sometimes (very rarely I admit) it might be quite nice to be an Aussie at Christmas…
  3. This university commencement speech shows the qualities of Tim Minchin as a good all round bloke. Sit back, listen, and share far and wide. It deserves it.
  4. Writing the songs for the theatre show Matilda has propelled Tim into the big time and I’m not sure how well this translates without seeing the whole show, but there can’t be a more perfect song that evokes feelings of nostalgia than When I Grow Up. I remember seeing a Q&A with Tim a few years ago in which he was asked why this song makes us cry. “It makes us cry because many or maybe all of us carry around (perhaps subconsciously) a sense that grown-up us has let child us down”, he said.

Recommendations in brief…January

Luckily there were some things to enjoy this month to distract us from the impending end of the world as we know it…

Every few years a film comes out with such a torrent of euphoria that it’s hard to actually sit and enjoy without the pressure of watching the-film-that-everyone-loves. However I thought (unlike King’s Speech and The Artist) La La Land does just about do itself justice. It’s very good fun, has some superb musical set pieces, and enough depth/plot to prevent it slipping into tweeness or cringeworthy American shmaltz. There’ll be a backlash at some point but I say ignore it.

Tickets went on general sale last week for political historical rap musical theatre show HamiltonI’ll post up a review when I’m grey and old, having secured tickets for some time in 2018.

Last week was the 75th Anniversary of Desert Island Discs which was marked by 2 hour special show with highlights from the archive and some clips from previously lost interviews. Hosted, as ever, by the dreamy voice of everyone’s favourite guilty pleasure, Kirsty Young (no? just me..?), it was BBC documentary-making at its best. Also while you’re there, I thoroughly recommend checking out Gareth Malone‘s from back in December.

This month I finished Book 1 of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s ‘My Struggle’ series. It’s apparently an autobiography, but Knausgaard’s memory for detail makes it read just like any novel. I loved Knausgaard’s ability to find the tiny nuances and small moments in life that make us act the way we do, the things you would normally completely overlook, identify them and describe them so well. But while I didn’t quite have the same instant love for the entire book as many of the rave reviewers, I will definitely try the next one in the series.

Finally, this article popped up in my Twitter feed at some point this month. Makes you wonder a) how good would it be to be this bloody amazing at piano?! But then b) how good would it be to be this good at piano criticism?!

Recommending…Stornoway

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It was gutting to hear back in October that Oxfordshire folk band Stornoway were splitting up. Their first album, Beachcomber’s Windowsill, is a huge favourite, and has been pretty much constantly on my playlist since it was released back in 2011.

It has a magical mix of melancholy, nostalgia, beautiful harmonies and a surprisingly cutting insight into the human condition (see Battery Human). Zorbing is probably their most famous song, but others like Fuel Up or The End of the Movie deserve to be the soundtrack to anyone’s life.

I wonder if future generations will discover this gem of an album long after Stornoway are finished and be surprised the band weren’t given the recognition they maybe deserved.

The farewell tour in March is going to be emotional.

Links

Stornoway – Fuel Up (4AD Session)

Stornoway – Zorbing

Stornoway – The End of the Movie

 

Recommending…RAM Album Club

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The concept of Ruth and Martin’s Album Club is this: each week, a famous guest listens to an iconic album they’ve never heard before, and writes a review of it.

Contributors have included the likes of JK Rowling, Chris Addison, Ian Rankin and Al Murray, listening to legendary albums from Bob Dylan, Madonna or Elvis Presley for the first time.

With contributors like that, the album reviews were already bound to be fascinating and entertaining in themselves, however what really marks the brilliance of RAM Album Club is the introductions written by the host, Martin Fitzgerald. His writing is just so good. He manages to be entertaining, very very funny, whilst also somehow managing to uncover fascinating and unique insights into the albums, the story of the artists, or how the music was made. Try out The Beatles edition for size – see link below – then go from there.

Links:

One of my favourite editions – Help! by The Beatles (guest listener Stephen Bush)

Homepage of Ruth & Martin’s Album Club with the archive of posts

Recommending…Storyville: A Death Row Tale: The Fear of 13

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A documentary about Nick Yarris, who spent 20 years on death row in the US prison system whilst attempting to clear his name. It’s one of those occasions when you can’t help but sit back and be transfixed by the story and the emotions of the man who is interviewed throughout. Compelling and moving at the same time, it’s well worth a watch and has been recommended by Louis Theroux no less so must be good.

You can probably find it on BBC iplayer or Netflix, otherwise a bit of creative searching on Google should yield results…