Tag Archives: Great Lake Swimmers

Top 50 albums of 2009

In last month’s Q magazine, I read with some surprise and not a little disappointment, their (rather early) list of the top 50 albums of 2009. Although these lists are by their very nature incredibly subjective, I found myself taking issue with the vast majority of their choices. Lily Allen at number 7? Kasabian at number 1? The Decemberists skulking around just outside the 50? All quite laughable.

But at least it prompted me to start thinking about my own choices, and encouraged me to compile my list. At the outset, I will explain that it contains several albums that were not released this year – in fact, in at least one case, not even this century. However, they are all albums that are new to me this year, that I had not previously heard until 2009. In the interests of fairness I did try to keep the older ones out of the top 20, and in fact only one managed to sneak in.

I will present the list in full, without comment, and maybe revisit that decision and add a brief note to each one when I have more time.

I’d be more than happy to receive your thoughts on my choices, and your suggestions of glaring omissions.

In the interests of suspense, I will present them in ascending order of merit, from 50 to 1.

50)  Staff Benda Bililli – Tres, Tres Fort

A group of paraplegic street musicians who live in the grounds of Kinshasa Zoo in Kenya, including a 17 year-old performing incredible guitar-like solos on a one-string electric lute he designed and built himself out of a tin can. What’s not to love?

49)  Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

My introduction to the wonders of Wilco – the American Radiohead, according to some.

48)  Vetiver – Tight Knit

One of many new bands I discovered this year, and a pleasant record, but probably not their best. Enjoyed their set in the Big Top at the End of The Road Festival in September.

47)  The Low Anthem – Oh My God Charlie Darwin

If more of the songs were as good as the title track, this could have been a top 20 contender. An odd mix of lo-fi nu-folk (a la Fleet Foxes) and growly mad stomping blues (like Tom Waits let loose in a potting shed).

46)  The Broken Family Band – Welcome Home, Loser

One of three of theirs in the 50, and full of very fine songs with the trademark BFB witty lyrics and a fab cover photo and title to boot.

45)  Florence and The Machine – Lungs

I resisted this until late November, as all the hype surrounding Florence, La Roux, Little Boots et al and their electro-pop revolution had made we want to give them all a wide berth. However, Florence doesn’t really fit that mould, is clearly the pick of the bunch and this is quite a fabulous album. Great pair of lungs too.

44)  Taylor Swift – Fearless

Stands out from the rest in this list as rather poppy and young, but Ms Swift does write a fine tune and lyric. Although this was purchased for Mrs Cook’s birthday the sheer catchy-ness of these songs has infected me too.

43)  Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass

Undoubtedly the best album title in the list, and packed with some fantastic songs. As ever with Yo La Tengo, they manage to sound like at least five different bands over the course of the same record. Never a dull moment.

42)  Cat Power – The Greatest

Spurred on by her great version of ‘Amazing Grace’ on the ‘Dark Was The Night’ compilation, I got this for a half price itunes bargain and was not in the least disappointed. Great voice, great piano, and a number of fine songs.

41)  Great Lake Swimmers – Great Lake Swimmers

Haven’t had time to listen to this one as much as the other two in the list by this fine Canadian band, but their debut showed signs of the huge promise that has been fulfilled on the subsequent records. Folky acoustic songs of the highest order.

40)  Great Lake Swimmers – Ongiara

This one had me from the opening seconds of the opening song ‘Your Rocky Spine’, discovered on Spotify on my birthday using my new laptop speakers. Was enthralled by this album for most of that afternoon. Sounded even better with the backdrop of the Canadian Rockies that inspired it on our trip in June.

39)  Woodpigeon – Songbook

Another Canadian band, and one of my first Spotify discoveries. ‘Death by Ninja (a Love Story)’, ‘A Sad Country Ballad For A Tired Superhero’ and ‘A Hymn For 2 Walks In Different Cities’ are all quite brilliant songs, in very different ways. Fast becoming a favourite band of mine.

38)  The Broken Family Band – Please And Thank You

Their most recent, and sadly their last album as they split up in October. The usual reliably great tunes, combined with the occasional barbed lyric, this would have been higher but for the fact I haven’t listened to it as much as my favourite of theirs, ‘Balls’, that appears further up the list.

37)  Band Of Horses – Cease To Begin

So much fuss is made of the Fleet Foxes, but I actually much prefer their Sub Pop label-mates BOH: there is more to the music, the instrumentation is better and the songs are a bit more interesting than the Foxes pastoral by numbers. For me, not as immediately satisfying as their debut, which appears higher up, but definitely worth a listen or several.

36)  John Martyn – Solid Air (Remastered)

Sadly I’d never heard any of John Martyn’s music until after he died earlier this year – this remastered version of one of his most popular records was a great starting point. ‘May You Never’, ‘Over The Hill’ and ‘I’d Rather Be The Devil’ are all stand-out tracks and I love his distinctive guitar playing style.

35)  The Acorn – Glory Hope Mountain

Checked this out after a very good set they played at the End Of The Road Festival: intriguing acoustic rock – a bit of a grower.

34)  Cage The Elephant – Cage The Elephant

Brash, noisy, full of energy and highly enjoyable.

33)  Bill Callahan – Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle

Love the cover, love the title, love his voice, adore ‘Rococo Zephyr’ and this would have been higher except one or two tracks are a bit too weird for my taste.

32)  Bat For Lashes – Two Suns

Think I need to give this more time, especially as many people have raved about it, but it is a step up from her debut and contains some great moments.

31)  She Keeps Bees – Nests

Another itunes bargain following a sterling closing set at the EOTR Festival, this is well worth checking out. A band to watch out for.

30)  The Decemberists – The Crane Wife

My ultimate discovery of the past year, as regular readers will know, Portland, Oregon’s finest are very much my favourite band these days. This was the first album of theirs I heard and there are a number of outstanding tracks here, such as ‘Crane Wife 3’, ‘The Shankhill Butchers’, ‘O Valencia’ and ‘Yankee Bayonet’. A good starting point for new listeners, but not my favourite, as will become apparent.

29)  The Duke & The King – Nothing Gold Can Stay

Would have been much further up the top 30 if every track had been as good as ‘If You Ever Get Famous’, one of my favourite songs of the year. Sadly, only one or two other tracks come close to matching it, although I suspect this record’s a grower and I need to give it more time. They were fantastic live at the End Of The Road Festival in September when they added a lot more punch and panache to these stripped-down songs.

28)  Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band – Outer South

Any record featuring Conor Oberst’s distinctive vocals and trademark lyrical dexterity is always going to get in my top 30. This year he manages it twice with two different, new bands. Haven’t given this one as much of a listen as The Monsters Of Folk, but a good set of songs as ever.

27)  Regina Spektor – Far

As with so many of the albums in this list, this one started as a speculative Spotify selection, and over the course of several listens to this captivating set of songs and Spektor’s quirkily endearing vocals, I grew too fond of it to only have access to it via my computer. Well worth a listen if you’ve never heard of her before, and not only for her dolphin impression on ‘Folding Chair’ and beat box ending on ‘Eet’.

26)  The Broken family Band – Balls

I discovered this album in the middle of the Summer and just couldn’t stop listening to it. Some of the most acerbic and barbed but hilarious lyrics I’ve ever heard are matched to some of the most beautiful, perky and downright hummable tunes. ‘It’s All Over’ and ‘Alone in the Make-Out Room’ are absolute solid-gold standouts but there really isn’t a bad track here. If you’ve never heard this record, Spotify it immediately!

25)  First Aid Kit – Drunken Trees

OK, so strictly speaking this is an EP, but with 8 tracks and 3 bonus videos on the download version, I think it merits inclusion. One of the acts I’m sad to have missed at The End Of The Road Festival, these Swedish sisters have a great way with harmony, are talented instrumentalists and write their own interesting songs. Having said that, the best track here is their stunning cover of Fleet Foxes’ ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’.

24)  Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

Many high profile musicians claim Grizzly Bear as their favourite band, which always makes me a bit skeptical. Having tried and failed to get my ears around their previous album ‘Yellow House’ on Spotify I held out for a while on this, their latest, despite reading many rave reviews. When my resistance was eventually worn down by a very good track included on one of the free CDs from ‘The Word’ magazine and a Spotify test drive I started to see what the fuss was all about. A bit like ‘Bitte Orca’ by Dirty Projectors higher up this list, this is a record that challenges the listener and broadens your musical perspective as a reward.

23)  Band Of Horses – Everything All The Time

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m indebted to one of my brother’s friends for recommending Band Of Horses, and they turned out to be one of my favourite discoveries of the year. This is their first album, and my favourite of the two so far. Lots of great songs to choose from here, but the guitar riffs in ‘Weed Party’ are sufficient on their own to make me want to learn how to play that elusive instrument despite my complete lack of musical skill.

22)  The Decemberists – Picaresque

Of all the albums in this list you’re unlikely to find one with a better or more flamboyant opening track than Picaresque’s ‘The Infanta’. From the initial rumbling jungle sounds, to the tenor warbling at the grand finale this song is a master-class in showing-off.

21)  The Airborne Toxic Event – The Airborne Toxic Event

20)  Joyce, Nana Vasoncelos & Mauricio Maestro – Visions Of Dawn

19)  Monsters Of Folk – Monsters Of Folk

18)  Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew

17)  Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels

16)  Woodpigeon – Treasury Library Canada

15)  Muse – The Resistance

14)  Slow Club – Yeah So

13)  Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs

12)  Wilco – Wilco The Album

11)  The Leisure Society – Sleeper

10)  Emmy The Great – First Love

9)  Joe Gideon & The Shark – Harum Scarum

8)  Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

7)  Loney Dear – Dear John

6)  Various Artists – Dark Was The Night

5)  Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!

4)  The Cave Singers – Welcome Joy

3)  Loney Dear – Loney, Noir

2)  Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

1)  The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love

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The Hazards of Life

It seems to be a bit of a theme that recent posts start with an apology for absence, but at least this time there’s a decent excuse. After spending most of June on a fantastic holiday in Canada I managed to fall off a mountain bike on a particularly tricky and apparently notorious stretch of the Spray River Trail in Banff on the last day, breaking my left elbow and badly spraining my forearm and wrist.

Consequently blogging’s been on the back burner since arriving home, as one-handed typing doesn’t really lend itself to anything other than the absolutely necessary. Such as work!

The accident didn’t spoil an amazing holiday though, and the various great experiences and gorgeous scenery we enjoyed were enhanced by a varied and uniformly excellent soundtrack, thanks in part to the fact that Jo and Gary (sister and brother-in-law) our travelling companions have a very similar taste in music to mine.

There were many music-related highlights of the trip, particularly the day we drove along the Icefield Parkway from Jasper to Banff to an exclusively Canadian soundtrack, including Joni Mitchell, Great Lake Swimmers and Arcade Fire. However, one particular album emerged as a firm favourite from the holiday, and I was delighted that Gary in particular shared my enthusiasm for it.

Beware: Hazards ahead

Beware: Hazards ahead

‘The Hazards of Love’ by The Decemberists. And herein hangs many a tale.

Although I’d had a couple of sneak previews of it on Spotify, I’d been deliberately saving this new album for the holiday when I could give it the time, attention and repeated plays it undoubtedly deserved. Regular readers will know that it was thanks to reading rave reviews of this album and interviews with the band before its release that led me to research and discover the delights of their back catalogue, to the extent that they have now surpassed all other bands in my affections.

Acquiring this greatly acclaimed masterpiece, “The best record ever made” according to one of the writers for The Word magazine, was clearly a priority and I wasted no time when that very publication advertised a free copy of the CD in exchange for placing a subscription. I did so on my birthday in April, and eagerly awaited my copy of the May issue. Which arrived with no CD.

After ringing the magazine I discovered the CD would be sent separately within 28 days. Cue 28 days of very impatient huffing and puffing when it never materialised. What made it worse was that thanks to the generosity of friends and family for my birthday I’d purchased about 15 other albums with my many vouchers, none of which I wanted as much as this one. I could have bought it so many times over, but decided to wait for the free copy.

Except, my patience finally evaporated the day before we went on holiday and I downloaded the album from itunes instead. I couldn’t wait any longer, and I listened to it all the way through for the first time on the flight to Vancouver the next day. It was awesome, and I listened to it all again straight afterwards. It’s 17 tracks and well over an hour long. And well worth the wait.

You can read reviews here and here, and if you’re not familiar with The Decemberists it’s probably not the best place to start, but it is lyrically, musically and conceptually a stunning piece of work. It’s a post-modern concept album, telling the tale of a maiden ‘romanced’ by a shape-shifting beast in an enchanted forest and a rake, an ‘irascible blackguard’ who unburdens himself of parental responsibility by murdering his offspring.

Nice.

Oh, and there’s also a pretty scary sounding Queen in there somewhere, who holds the key to the mysterious provenance of the shape-shifting fawn/human.

Steps it ain’t.

On a first listen it might seem a bit much, and be rather overpowering, but repeated listens reveal more and more layers, you start to notice repeated musical themes and motifs and the story becomes clearer. Many of the songs are outstanding on their own, but when you hear them in order and in context they are somehow even more impressive. It’s a grower!

There’s something special about sharing your excitement about music you’ve discovered, and the first time we listened to this album in our fabulous suite at L’Hermitage hotel in Vancouver it was brilliant watching and hearing Gary’s reactions – his overwhelming positivity added even more to my enjoyment. We had a couple of repeat performances during the holiday, most notably on the last day after we’d got back from the hospital and I was struggling with the pain. Laughter is often the best medicine, but this time it was music.

And today, finally and almost miraculously, my free copy of ‘The Hazards of Love’ arrived in the post. It had taken another phone call, and the rectification of a shocking administrative error, but at last, the spoils.

And so ends a tale of acquisition almost as lengthy, rambling and unexpected as that depicted by the album itself.

Bet you wish I’d broken my right elbow too!

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Spotify update

It's fabulous. And free!

It's fabulous. And free!

In the past week several people have informed me that they have downloaded and are using Spotify as a result of reading this blog, which is really pleasing. At least one brave soul had also been listening to some of my recent recommendations – thanks Jim! As a result, I thought it was about time to write another article updating you with the latest developments surrounding the Swedish streaming sensation.

At the end of April there was an interesting interview on the Guardian’s Digital Content Blog with Paul Brown, Spotify’s new UK managing director. Worth a read, but some of the main points he touched on were:

  • There are now more than a million registered users in the UK
  • A “decent proportion” are paying for the service (either £0.99 per day or £9.99 per month)
  • They have launched a partnership with 7 Digital to sell downloads which is likely to expand
  • They are looking to extend the range of quality content available, including things like Peel sessions that were locked up by radio contracts
  • They are looking seriously at portability and specifically, paid services available on the iphone.

Spotify and I

From a personal viewpoint, using Spotify for the past two months has transformed my relationship with music, in terms of how I listen and what I listen to.

For a start, it’s proving to be a solid gold ‘try before you buy’ tool and more effective than any other I have used. For the record I have actually bought more albums than usual during that period (although that’s partly due to birthday vouchers etc) so listening to streamed music for free has not stopped me buying music, it has just helped me make even better choices.

I roadtested and later purchased the following excellent albums:

  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
  • The Decemberists – The Crane Wife, Picaresque
  • Great Lake Swimmers – Ongiara, Lost Channels
  • Vetiver – Tight Knit
  • Bat For Lashes – Two Suns
  • Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Being There
  • Staff Benda Bilili – Tres Tres Fort
  • Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass

On the other hand, I chose not to buy a few others after giving them a Spotify spin (U2 and Doves take the walk of shame – although I did download “Kingdom of Rust”).

It is also a fantastic way to discover bands you’ve not heard before. Before Spotify I was not really aware of The Decemberists, Great Lake Swimmers, My Morning Jacket or Wilco and had never even heard of Cara Dillon or Staff Benda Bilili. The first couple have fast become two of my very favourite bands and I’m gradually working my way through their impressive back catalogues.

Spotify is also a fast and efficient record identifier. Last week Nic mentioned a couple of times that she’d heard a song on the radio she really liked and wanted to download it from itunes. Only problem was she had no idea of the artist, only a rough idea of the title. Thankfully that was enough, and within about 20 seconds I’d discovered the song in question. In the days before Spotify it would have taken a great deal longer to track it down and may have been quite a frustrating process.

If you’re a new user you might be too spoilt for choice to decide what to listen to, faced with such a huge array of great music. If that’s the case, help is at hand. There are a number of web sites where people are sharing the playlists they have compiled, and two of the best are Spotify Playlists and ShareMyPlaylists. Once you’ve got the hang of it of course, you can join in the fun by sharing your own selections.

I haven’t got that far yet, as I’m still wading my way through all the albums I have identified from reviews in Q and The Word magazines.

What price freedom?

I’m beginning to wonder what we ever did without Spotify to be honest, and I can’t believe that (at least for now) it’s still free. The adverts have become slightly more irritating but an occasional 15 seconds of Iggy Pop shouting on behalf of an insurance company is a small price to pay for so much great music.

However, as the company explores more revenue streams and looks to develop its business model they will undoubtedly try to tempt more of us to pay for the privilege. Back in March if you’d asked me if I’d pay £9.99 per month for the premium service I would have resolutely said “Never!”. But if that price were to cover an ad-free service and unlimited downloads as is the current rumour, I’d have to give the proposition some serious thought.

And so would Apple!

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Now playing: Ongiara by Great Lake Swimmers

Current favourite albums: 1 of 3

Thanks to Spotify I’ve been listening to a lot of music recently, and have discovered some great albums and artists I hadn’t heard before. As a result, I’ve picked three albums out for special attention this month, with a longer than usual list of other notable mentions. Don’t worry, I’m going to spread them out over three articles so you won’t have a marathon to negotiate.

First up and top billing this month goes to:

Great Lake Swimmers – Ongiara

Great Lake Swimmers - Ongiara

Ongiara: even the sleeve art is beautiful

Until a week or so ago, I’d never heard of Great Lake Swimmers.

I read a review of their latest album ‘Lost Channels’ which prompted me to add them to my list of new discoveries to check out. As a result, I came across their previous release from 2007, which I fell in love with on first listen, and have been playing regularly ever since.

These days I find myself increasingly drawn to acoustic, folky music. Some might put it down to my age, but I just appreciate the simplicity of the sound and find its melodic qualities incredibly soothing and relaxing. Most of my favourite bands producing this music seems to originate from North America. And many of them are in some way quirky. Great Lake Swimmers are no exception, and as their name hints, they hail from Canada, and Ontario specifically.

From the outset they have made something of a habit of recording in eccentric places – their debut was created in a grain silo, and Ongiara, their third album was recorded in Aeolian Hall, in London, Ontario which was built in 1884 and originally a town hall, but is now a heritage site and a music and arts venue renowned for its fabulous acoustics.

If you are curious enough to give this album a listen, you’ll hear that the decision paid off: the guitar, banjo and strings all sound fantastic and the instrumentation perfectly complements the melodic vocals of lead singer, guitarist and founder Tony Dekker.

I’m not going to attempt a full review here – there are plenty online if you’re interested ranging from the ecstatic to the downright mean (Pitchfork again!). The point of these ‘now playing’ features is to highlight something I’ve really enjoyed, nudge others to seek it out for themselves and hopefully really appreciate it too.

If you’re a fan of folky, rootsy singer/songwriter type stuff such as Iron & Wine, or possibly even Nick Drake, then this will probably be your bag. I was sold by the end of the first few banjo bars of opener ‘Your Rocky Spine’ and it just got better. The second track ‘Backstage with the Modern Dancers’ is really exquisite – I can’t really describe why: it just is, and one of those songs you happen to stumble upon that you then can’t imagine being without.

My other favourites are ‘Catcher Song’, ‘Changing Colours’ and ‘There is a light’. That’s not to say that the remaining tracks aren’t really good too – it’s just that the first five really stand out. In fact, it’s the kind of album that serenades you slowly rather than grabbing you by the ears and demanding attention, but actually leaves you wanting more. More than once I’ve got to the end and started playing it again from the beginning: that’s not something I do often.

Great Lake Swimmers have sometimes been criticised for producing slight, fragile music and not really rocking out. Tony Dekker’s voice is, according to some, too quiet and not strong enough.

I think that’s just harsh and ungrateful.

You don’t always want to listen to brash, piercing vocals, thrashing guitars and a pounding beat.

It’s very pleasant sometimes, as Dekker sings on ‘There is a light’, to just “Stop, listen and feel” .

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The thrill of the chase

Amidst all the debates about how Spotify is changing music, and what the long term effects of this might be for the industry and consumers, one thing remains clear – it’s a brilliant way of discovering new music and re-discovering tunes you’ve loved and lost.

I’ve benefitted from this greatly in the last few weeks and have a stock of playlists that are providing new delights on a daily basis. For example, only yesterday my birthday was made all the more enjoyable by discovering Great Lake Swimmers, a band from Toronto I’d never previously heard of, whose album ‘Ongiara’ provided a great soundtrack to a relaxing afternoon thanks to my fabulous new Sony laptop speakers.

The only downside though, is that it’s all really easy. Type in the name of the artist or song, and a split-second later you either have what you’re looking for, or you don’t, because it’s not in the library yet. Despite the ludicrous convenience of being able to do this so quickly and for free it is somehow less satisfying than spending ages tracking down an obscure album yourself by trawling through the CD racks of whatever independent record stores you can find still in business.

I’m sure I’m not alone in revelling in the thrill of the chase, and the immense sense of satisfaction you feel when you finally corner your quarry and bring back the spoils. Here are three of my most pleasing ‘old school’ searches for albums/songs that would probably be filed under ‘obscure’:

What treasures lurk within the racks?

What treasures lurk within the racks?

‘Century Flower’ by Shelleyan Orphan

Tracked down in Toronto

Tracked down in Toronto

Many moons ago, during the early days of The Tube, Channel 4’s first and probably best music show, I saw a performance of a song by Shelleyan Orphan which transfixed me. An impressionable teenager with artistic tendencies, seeing a band named after a Romantic Poet and featuring a pre-Raphelite beauty playing a cello, on a song that sounded like nothing I’d previously encountered, it was bound to leave a significant mark.

I can’t even remember which song it was now, but I distinctly remember the many occasions over the following decade when I’d scan the shelves in any record store I happened to be in, hoping to find their album ‘Century Flower’. Once or twice I found it, but in those days the lack of a disposable income and any opportunity to ‘try before you buy’ resulted in me leaving my treasure unclaimed, just in case I’d end up blowing my meagre funds on a duffer.

So, the years passed, and the urgency faded. Then, on holiday in Toronto in December 1996, approximately nine years after the original search began I found myself in a small independent store in the downtown area and out of habit I did a quick flick through under ‘F’ for Felt (another occasional obsession) to no avail, and then on to ‘S’, where I found one copy of ‘Century Flower’. I remember being shocked, then excitement took over and I pounced to secure the purchase, all the caution of yesteryear cast to the winds.

Sadly, this is one example where the delicious anticipation of the chase proved more enjoyable and rewarding than the prize. It wasn’t exactly a duffer, but the fact that only one track, ‘The Silent Day’ appears on my ipod today tells its own story. As a footnote to this tale I should advise you that the four or five seconds it takes to type ‘Shelleyan Orphan’ and press enter, yields 34 tracks on Spotify – it may be time to give them another try.

‘The bushes scream while my daddy prunes’ by The Very Things

Best song title ever?

Best song title ever?

This was another classic Tube moment that gripped me around the same time. If you remember it, or have ever seen the video you will understand why. Being a words man from an early age, the song title itself struck me as a work of genius, and the cod horror film style delivery of the quite baffling lyric (reminiscent of ‘Monster Mash’ or ‘The Munsters’) amused me and my little brother no end. Incessant impersonations of the song ensued around the Cook household for weeks after, much to the bafflement and dismay of our parents.

This was a hard one to track down, because The Very Things did not really become a household name, as you might imagine – probably quite rightly if we’re honest. I don’t recall ever being able to find it in a record store, though I always checked the ‘V’ rack just in case an album containing the track was lying in wait.

Then early last year, 24 years after the song originally appeared, I decided to give the itunes store what I considered to be its ultimate test. To my utter amazement, there it was, and for the princely sum of £0.79 I had captured a song that had eluded me for the best part of a quarter of a century. This time there was no disappointment – I was instantly transported back to 1984 and recaptured my initial excitement at the slightly unhinged ‘singing’ and occasionally discordant accompaniment.

I just checked Spotify and although it took about seven seconds to type in the song title, that track and the whole album of the same name are available – I might be brave enough to check out ‘Shearing machine’ tomorrow!

‘The Forest is Crying’ by the Trio Bulgarka

If only they knew how much I'd cared ...

If only they knew how much I'd cared ...

This one is my favourite search story because it’s a real saga. I first heard the Trio Bulgarka on Kate Bush’s album ‘The Sensual World’ and fell in love with their magical, mystical vocals which were obviously complete gibberish to me, yet sounded strangely compelling. I bought their album ‘The Forest is Crying’ when it came out in 1988, and played it very often, especially the track ‘Mari Tudoro’ which was just hauntingly beautiful and became a firm favourite.

‘So where’s the search in that?’ you may ask. Well, let’s cut to the chase. Just over a decade later, someone borrowed some of my CDs to take to work, including that one. When they were returned, the case for this album was empty and the person concerned made no attempt to find it or even apologise. One might even conclude that they’d done it on purpose. Bulgarian folk music may not be everyone’s bag, but that’s just rude.

So, as it was a treasured album, the search for its replacement was fervent and relentless. And seemingly doomed. After putting in the usual legwork in record stores proved fruitless, I took advantage of access to the new internet technology and extended the search online. It was then that I discovered that the album had been deleted by the record label Hannibal, and was subsequently unavailable for purchase. Refusing to accept defeat I tried various other routes, including registering a reservation request on Amazon, which again, eventually proved to be a frustrating dead end. By this time (about four or five years later!) I was feeling like the online equivalent of J R Hartley from the old Yellow Pages ad, hapless and defeated.

So I gave up. Forgot all about it, and moved on.

Until this time last year, when on a week’s holiday to New York I was pottering around the Virgin Megastore in Union Square after a fabulous breakfast burrito. On a whim, I ventured into the World Music section which I hadn’t done for several years, and had a quick look under T. And there it was, in all its glory, with the same CD cover. Just one copy.

I instinctively grabbed it, to ensure no-one else beat me to it, before laughing out loud at how ridiculous the gesture was. I was so surprised by my find I had a job explaining the significance of it to Nic (my wonderful wife) when I found her in the Pop section. To her immense credit she didn’t look at me as if I was insane, and seemed to understand my joy, even if it would have been hard for her to share my enthusiasm for the album.

There was one further slight twist, when we got to the checkout and my credit card was originally refused (due to the over-enthusiastic fraud protection measures practised by certain British banks that fail to consider you might be legitimately buying things on holiday abroad). I was not about to let that prevent me from claiming my prize, and although I was prepared to get as dramatic as circumstances required, the cash machine in the shop had less scruples and paved the way to purchase.

Twenty years after I originally owned it, and ten years after it had been cast asunder, I finally had it back in my possession. As soon as we got back to the UK it was transferred to my ipod and I was enjoying the delights of those strange ethereal warblings once again.

Satisfyingly, you can’t get this album on Spotify …. yet.

The one that got away

There’s still one song that has eluded me over the past two decades, and I haven’t even got very close. That’s partly due to the fact that I can’t remember if it was called ‘Heavenly powers’ or ‘Earthly powers’ but it was by A Man Called Adam (that’s the real group name, not further proof of my dodgy memory skills).

I’ve scoured record stores, drawn a blank with Amazon and itunes, and Spotify has also failed me to date.

If anyone out there can point me in the right direction I will be ridiculously grateful.

The chase is on …….

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