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December 2022 Archive
25.12.22 > Craggie's Christmas Message
Click the pic for a bigger version!
I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year! Sadly though, the reality is likely to be anything but for many people this year. We may have emerged from a couple of years of Covid hell but 2022 has seen no let up in global misery. The war in Ukraine has affected everyone and beyond the horrific suffering of the Ukrainian people it has plunged the whole world into financial crisis. It is getting on for 30 years since “Do They Know It's Christmas" begged us to consider the plight of starving children in Africa. This year, the Christmas No. 1 is a reworking of that song asking us to “feed the UK”. At the time of Band Aid there was optimism that the world was starting to pull together and we might have thought that in 2022 food poverty would have been a thing of the past and yet here we are with the cost of living going through the roof–food, energy, fuel, in fact pretty much everything has risen dramatically, except, that is, from people's pay packets. Which is why it seems the whole country is now striking. The frustration that is behind going on strike is understandable but the problem is mail, rail and nursing strikes are heaping misery upon ordinary people at a time when they are suffering enough already. And all this in a year where we have lost the leading light throughout most of our lives, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The country has seemed like a rudderless ship ever since her death.
Until the wretched conflict in Ukraine is ended there seems to be little hope in sight of things improving any time soon and we should probably brace ourselves for 2023 being another difficult year. So, is there any reason for cheer at all? Well, yes, of course. We always have Katie! And in a year when she became a mum for the first time and surprised us with a sensational collaboration album with Simon Goff, she also announced a new album and tour next year. That, at least, is something to look forward to. Many will be more concerned with putting food on the table than going to concerts but for those that can afford to go it will be a much-needed injection of joy and a beacon of light in these dark days. Times may be difficult but nothing lasts forever and even school books have last pages. Without hope, we are lost so let's hope that peace and prosperity will eventually prevail. In the mean time, keep listening to Katie.
17.12.22 > Playlist: A Very Katie Christmas
Goodness me, it isn't five minutes since the Halloween playlist and now Christmas is almost upon us. Here is a carefully curated selection of Katie's songs to hopefully get you in a festive mood. You could just listen to In Winter of course, but I suspect you're doing that anyway and this selection is designed to make you feel specifically Christmassy as opposed to generally wintry! Click the pic to go to the Spotify playlist.
12.12.22 > Ambient: The Most Misunderstood Genre?
After Katie’s recent dabble into the world of ambient music in Aerial Objects, I thought I'd have a little chat about what is one of my favourite music genres and hopefully try to “out" it, because for many years it felt like a guilty secret to love ambient music. That is because people tend to mock what they don't understand, and I think Ambient is possibly the most misunderstood genre of them all (jazz comes close but at least has a foothold in the general population thanks to the likes of Sinatra, Bublé, Krall and Cullum, oh and let's not forget a young Katie Melua!).
First of all, let's clear up what Ambient means. It seems to mean different things to different people. Some may think of electronic music like Tangerine Dream or Vangelis. Others confuse it with New Age healing music involving wind chimes or pan pipes. In truth, Ambient can be any or all of those. Ambience is about feeling and mood. And as you know, we can have a lot of different moods. Relaxing and “chilling out” are the ones most associated with the genre but there is music for every mood. Perhaps you want something to keep you sharp or focussed while working or driving, or something with a steady beat to drive you on whilst running. Perhaps you are feeling low and want something reflective or even melancholy; you might be on a high and want something vibrant and energetic. Ambient has it all. And there is a lot of it. The biggest problem you might have is sorting through it all and finding what is right for you. The best way is to go exploring in Spotify and see where it leads you.
Let’s talk more about musical genres. If you search Wikipedia you’ll find an article listing musical genres. Ambient appears under the broad heading Electronic. I take issue with that straight away because Ambient music does not have to be electronic at all–you can create it with a piano, violin or even a pair of spoons if you want. You will also see a ton of other sub-genres within Electronic that could also be classed as Ambient. There are also sub-genres under Easy Listening that I would consider Ambient also. My definition of Ambient is broadly “music without lyrics”. You might be thinking “isn't that just Instrumental then?”. Well, there is a subtle distinction in that Ambient music doesn't necessarily even have to involve instruments–it can just be an arrangement of sounds such as rain, wind, cars, people talking, animals or deliberately created noises like hitting a cup with a teaspoon or something esoteric created on a synthesiser. And though I said “broadly” music without lyrics, that doesn't mean lyrics aren't allowed, it just means they need to complement the ambience and mood of the music rather than take centre stage. There’s no better example of lyrics in Ambient music than Aerial Objects, where Katie’s voice adds a layer of feeling to the music rather than dominating it. At the end of the day, Ambient is music to help you achieve a particular mood or state of mind and all the plethora of genres and sub-genres are simply about the bizarre human need to label and pigeon-hole everything. If I was going down that road I’d classify Katie Melua as a genre because her voice has a different effect on me than any other music.
Where did my love for Ambient come from then? It is hard to pinpoint a specific moment or piece of music but I would have to say my earliest memories of music invoking particular feelings was Mike Oldfield's astonishing Tubular Bells. I was a fan of early electronic music by artists like Tangerine Dream, Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre, and it was Jarre who nudged me towards the world of Ambient with his sublime 46-minute track “Waiting For Cousteau” from the album of the same name. I recommend giving that track a listen, (though maybe not the others on the album!)
With the arrival of the Internet it became increasingly easy to search out new music and I discovered artists like The Future Sound Of London and Global Communication. The latter's 1994 album 76:14 is rightly considered an Ambient classic and should definitely be given a listen. Brian Eno is widely considered the Daddy of the genre and not unreasonably so. His output over decades has been extraordinary and he has pushed against a lot of boundaries. He can be very minimalist at times, which you’ll either love or hate, but I would check out Ambient 1: Music For Airports and Thursday Afternoon. It is worth experimenting with dark and industrial Ambient to see if they do anything for you. I find Autechre can be a bit harsh but they might float your boat. Early Aphex Twin is another one worth a listen–often strange but complex and at times extremely melodic. I’d give either of his Selected Ambient Works albums a go. As for the Ambient scene today, I have two clear favourites and an honourable mention. Marconi Union and Carbon Based Lifeforms consistently deliver albums of stunning quality in a genre that has become almost saturated with an endless amount of people creating music at home on their computers and uploading to sites like Jamendo. Some of that is quite good, some is rubbish. It's the musical equivalent of self-publishing books. Much of it is free though and there are gems to be found if you go digging. But MU and CBL are shining lights. My honourable mention goes to Solar Fields, another artist with some wonderful Ambient albums to explore.
Ambient is a very personal genre though and it will mean different things to everyone. The great thing about streaming services like Spotify is that you can explore endless amounts of avenues for yourself and discover what is right for you. Ambient tracks are often long, some lasting an hour or more (like Mike Oldfield’s bizarre 60-minute Amarok) but my favourite Ambient track of all is just over 2 minutes–it is called “Fading Away” by Vangelis on Disc 2 of his extended 25th Anniversary Blade Runner Soundtrack. It is achingly beautiful and encapsulates everything I love about Ambient.
I hope I have persuaded you to give a bit more respect to this misunderstood genre and perhaps even dip a toe into the vast waters...
11.12.22 > Live Stream Supporting St. Gregory's Foundation
On 14th December at 7pm there will be a livestream of Katie performing 3 songs and chatting about her childhood days in Georgia. It is in aid of the Georgian charity, Mkurnali, to support the homeless. Click the pic to find out more, tune in on the 14th and please donate if you are able to.
10.12.22 > It's A Boy!
Congratulations to Katie on the birth of her son, Sandro. Not long to wait until his first Christmas! I hope he has a magical childhood; I've no doubt Katie will be an amazing mum.