This year hasn’t started at all well for music fans. 2016 began much as 2015 ended: with the sad news that David Bowie – and now Glenn Frey from The Eagles and Dale Griffin, Mott the Hoople drummer – have died, when many were still in shock at the suddenness of Lemmy from Motorhead’s passing at Christmas.
Some critics have questioned just how acceptable it is to mourn musicians, or indeed anyone in the public eye, as if they were family members or dear friends. More on this later.
Those who died in 2015 probably leave a far richer and more interesting catalogue of music than the year’s stand-out new releases; I have to confess that the new CDs I find myself playing most from last year are not so new at all: Donovan’s Retrospective anthology, a celebration of 50 years as a recording artist with one new song thrown in for good measure, and a box set called Move On Up: The Best of Northern Soul. Well, these and something called Rattle That Lock, but we might have discussed that once or twice already.
Rattle That Lock aside, there were several notable new releases, however, and I wonder if any of these were waiting to be unwrapped by you on Christmas morning. Do tell, including the format.
Perhaps How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence & The Machine, who stole the show at Glastonbury? Hand. Cannot. Erase. by Steven Wilson, singer and songwriter of Porcupine Tree? (Check out the exquisite video to the very sad but beautiful ‘Routine’.) Joe Satriani’s Shockwave Supernova, maybe?
Other solo albums from members of rock’s biggest bands might have caught the eye or, better still, ear: Keith Richards’ Crosseyed Heart, Mark Knopfler’s Tracker, Don Henley’s Cass County.
Neil Young was once again very good to us. From his archives, highlights from Farm Aid – Down on the Farm – marked the event’s 30th anniversary, and Bluenote Café gathered various live performances from 1987/8. There was even a new protest album, a collaboration with Willie Nelson’s sons, called The Monsanto Years. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been saying for years that there’s not nearly enough whistling in music any more – or clapping – (and fewer people are whistling these days, I read, in what was probably the best question-in-a-headline of 2015 if not all-time: ‘Has the decline of the delivery boy killed the art of whistling?’), so this was a real treat if only for ‘A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop’. (Are you whistling yet?)
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club put out a live album complete with DVD – Live In Paris. I also very much enjoyed The Story of Sonny Boy Slim by Gary Clark Jr., Songs About Other People by Harry Harris and Keep the Village Alive by Stereophonics.
Jack Savoretti’s breakthrough, Written In Scars, a BBC Radio 2 Album of the Week, was both well-received and -played. Probably more radio-friendly than anything he’s done previously, I happen to prefer his earlier, more folky albums, but absolutely appreciated the chance to discover his 2007 debut Between the Minds.
But back to those who left us in 2015.
As with each passing year, we mourn in our own unique way the passing of so many who helped make the songs that serve as the soundtracks to our lives. As Marc Eliot asked in his ‘Why Glenn Frey’s death shakes us’ piece, ‘are we mourning our lost selves and a time when we all thought we could live hard and stay free and surf and bike and run and jump and love and never lose because we were forever young?’ Probably, almost certainly. But as Suzanne Moore maintains and the title of her Guardian opinion piece plainly states: ‘Don’t deride those who are mourning David Bowie – this grief is serious and rational’.
Feel free to add your thoughts whether you agree with her or not, but here are some of the people who may have played a small but not insignificant part in your life who lost theirs in 2015. I’d like to remember them. Unlike David Bowie, whose death was met with considerable press coverage (Glenn Frey’s much less so in the UK, I imagine there was more reporting in his native USA), you might not be aware that some of these music-makers have died and that would be a shame.
As well as Lemmy, Motorhead drummer Phil Taylor. Chris Squire, Yes co-founder and bassist. Stevie Wright, Easybeats lead singer.
Toto’s Mike Porcaro and REO Speedwagon’s Gary Richrath. Scott Weiland, singer with the Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, and Jeremy Brown, lead guitarist for Scott Weiland’s band the Wildabouts.
P.J. Sloan, session guitarist in LA’s famous Wrecking Crew, who co-wrote one of the best anti-war songs – Barry McGuire’s ‘Eve of Destruction’ (the words could have been written for the present time, no doubt):
‘I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation
Handful of sedatives don’t pass legislation
And marches alone can’t bring integration
When human respect is disintegrating
This whole crazy world is just too frustrating’
Mats Olausson, keyboardist with Yngwie Malmsteen. Guitarist Sam Andrew of Big Brother and The Holding Company. Danny McCullough, bass player with The Animals. Crickets bass player Joe B. Mauldin. Keyboardist Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream. Dallas Taylor, who played drums for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Andy Fraser, bassist with Free, perhaps best known for co-writing the classic ‘All Right Now’.
The brilliant B.B. King. (It’s almost impossible to watch him perform, however sad the song, without a smile breaking out across your face, isn’t it? What a legacy that is to leave: making people smile.)
New York songwriters Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett, who co-wrote for the likes of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra among others (including this one by Carl Perkins), whose songs were recorded by many artists, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s.
Curtis Lee, best known for his 1961 smash hit ‘Pretty Little Angel Eyes’.
Drummer “Fast Eddie” Hoh, who played on Donovan’s ‘Sunshine Superman’. Tim Drummond, bassist for Neil Young and so many others, so in-demand as a session and touring musician was he.
Crank up some of their songs in their memory, whistle along as best you can if you want to, and please let us know what stood out for you last year in terms of new releases and, if you preferred them, re-releases.