Music is my life. Music saved my life. I apologise for 2 tedious clichés to kick off this blog, but I honestly don’t know what I would do without music. Since the age of 2 or 3 is when the love affair started. I remember Motown, Madness and The Pogues in particular being blasted in our household, these bands and songs remind me of my childhood. It was when I was 8 years old and a teacher at school handed me a cornet to parp down, it must have sounded absolutely hideous but I fell in love instantly with making noise and as a very shy child pouring my emotions through the instrument was very appealing.
For ten years I couldn’t put it down, I joined the local brass band, the youth jazz bands and orchestras, anything to keep my mind occupied with making music. Without music I wouldn’t have seen the world… for free.
I went to college and decided I wanted to be really good at the cornet and trumpet. I practiced my arse off. People say I’m lucky, that’s not fair because I have worked really hard. I played for 3 world famous brass bands during my studies in Manchester (I’m still with the latest one) and was fortunate enough to go on regular trips to Norway, Switzerland, Holland, Austria, Germany and one off tours to America and Australia. I got to play at the Sydney opera house!
As I was carving a musical world inspired by the trumpet, I also lived a parallel life of discovering punk and considering myself to be a punk. This all started when I heard Monkey Wrench by the Foo Fighters aged 11 thanks to my big sister. It blew me away, then I heard a friend say ‘listen to this’ and I heard NOFX for the first time, then someone telling me ‘the lead singer in the Foo Fighters used to play drums in this band called Nirvana, give them a listen.’
It’s a shame I will never get to hear these bands for the first time again.
Nirvana and NOFX then lead you to other bands and then before you know it you start to slowly build a record collection, buy the t shirts, grow your hair and live the music… Cheesy but it’s true. At 14 I bought my first guitar, put the first Ramones album on and started to learn the songs, at 16 I formed my first band Bankshot.
Music is my life, but more importantly it saved my life. I had some seriously dark times in early 2012 and picking up the guitar and writing songs got me through. Listening to two Plan B songs ‘Darkest Place’ and ‘Recluse’ saved me and told me it was okay to feel bad and be an outcast. I got through it and formed my own band Braxton Hicks. I love the buzz of playing live, but once we’ve finished playing I hit a huge low, I wish to be anonymous and want to hide in the corner… probably because I’ve let my guard down and chucked all my emotions out there during the performance. The music is over and I have nothing more to give. This is how much I need music in my life and without it there’s a possibility I could be locked up, dead or in jail to quote Lars Frederiksen.
Louis Armstrong once said something like ‘there’s good music and bad music, I like the good kind.’ This has always been my philosophy and I don’t dismiss any genres, neither do I base my taste on music’s commercial value… there should be no such thing as a guilty pleasure, there’s something good in there somewhere. I suppose I think of myself as a punk, punk means being yourself and not conforming. That’s it. Don’t strive to be different don’t strive on being the same, as Oscar Wilde said ‘Be yourself, everybody else is taken.’ That is Punk. It just so happens my favourite genre of music is American Early 80’s punk rock, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Black Flag, TSOL, Adolescents, Circle Jerks… the list is endless (although despite this there is only one album from this era featured in my top ten).
I am also a believer of the fact you don’t have to be a snob to listen to jazz or classical music… just a shame a lot of people are, although you could argue that some punks are snobby… I could go on about working class parallels between punk and brass bands and plenty more but I’m yacking on here, let me tell you about my top ten favourite albums of all time.
I asked Neil if I could do this Blog, I wasn’t too sure what to write it on, it was either talking about my top 10 albums and how they have affected me or the first six months of Braxton Hicks. I thought only Crud and I would be interested in reading the latter (not even our drummer!) so I went for the top 10. Picking my top 10 was incredibly difficult in some cases and very easy in others, leaving out certain albums was pretty painful! (System of a Down’s Toxicity for example, and it is pretty criminal that there is nothing by Ian Mackaye in this list anywhere) who knows, in a years time I could be asked again and the list could be completely different. I strongly recommend all these CDs! Of my 279 and counting albums here is the top 10 in no order, I repeat no order. Not favourites, not chronological, just ten quality albums I love. My Top ten.
Dead Kennedys – Plastic Surgery Disasters (1982)
I bought Plastic Surgery Disasters when I was 16 and it didn’t leave my CD player for months. The combination of Jello Biafra’s terrifying vocals, East Bay Ray’s punk Dick Dale way of shredding the guitar, the beefiness of the rhythm section of bassist Klaus Floride and D.H Peligro made for a harrowing album. Some of the tracks genuinely scared me. When I first heard ‘Riot’ I was terrified, the last time Jello says ‘Tomorrow you’re homeless, tonight it’s a blast’ used to really get to me. I love how pissed off Jello is with everything, he hates jocks, hates the government, hates boring grown ups afraid to be themselves, hates preppies, Winnebago warriors and governors on cocaine. I think Jello Biafra is the most unique voice in punk, voice in two senses of the word, firstly his funny warble singing technique and secondly his witty sarcastic lyrics that show how pissed off he is and he sums up how fucked up the world is perfectly. The question ‘WHEN WILL YOU CRACK?’ from ‘Well Paid Scientist’ sums up this album, this statement makes me feel at one with the band, a misfit pissed off with the general boring public.
Inner Terrestrials – Tales Of Terror (2012)
I went to see Sonic Boom Six in Manchester in 2008 and Inner Terrestrials were supporting them and they were incredible, they blew the headliners away. I bought their album X the next day and loved it. 4 years later Tales of Terror came out and it really did blow me away. A simple three piece, the band blend ska dub and punk for their own original sound. The band also has a Folk vibe to it and when J plays the tin whistle on ‘Battlefield’ it has a great 13th century English Folk song feel to it (not many punk bands can say that!). J has a great voice and has a knack for writing great lyrics I love this band for their anti-drugs (Just Say Neigh) and Anti-Fascist (Heavens Wrath) stance. I love some of the lyrics on this album ‘Missiles fly and people die. Innocents caught in the crossfire. The Normal people of this world Share the same simple desires of food, shelter, happiness, They aren’t ruthless empire-building yobs. With food in our bellies and hope in our hearts I reject your law and shit your god.’
This lyric from Heavens Wrath is living is the simplest way. The album is full of great riffs and is as catchy as hell.
Miles Davis – Miles Ahead (1957)
Being a trumpet player myself I like to listen to different players in the classical and jazz genres and for me Miles Davis has the most expression in his playing, this album in particular is just gorgeous. Miles is backed by a flashy 19 piece big band and he provides contrast to the accompaniments loud brassy style in his unique under stated way. Hearing Miles backed with a 19 strong piece band is rare as most of his albums are done with a quartet. This is so refreshing when many trumpeters treat it like sport as opposed to art in this way, seeing who can play the loudest, the highest and the fastest. On ‘Miles Ahead’ he manages to make the Trumpet sound like a human voice, a flute and a bird singing. The fact his technique and ability isn’t textbook is part of his charm. Granted many trumpeters have a technique better than Miles but he defines beauty in his lyricism and shaping of the music. I see images when I listen to this album, it’s just incredibly imaginable. Highlight tracks are ‘New Rhumba’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed (By Anyone But You).’
You have to salute such an innovator and I love the way he evolved to take jazz to a new level. Miles Ahead is a timeless classic and you know it must be good when the mighty Dizzy Gillespie says he played it that much the needle on his vinyl wore out!
Rancid – Life Won’t Wait (1998)
Rancid have always been great at mixing and mashing up different styles and Life Won’t Wait is Rancid at their peak of blending different sounds. Tim Armstrong is a true hopeless romantic and is able to tell a story like no other on ‘Hoover Street’ and ‘Who Would’ve Thought’ – Who would’ve thought that dreams come true and who would’ve thought I ended up with you? and who would’ve what they said was true, but it was and you are light and darkness come through.
The song ‘Life Won’t Wait’ features a haunting verse from Buju Banton, giving the band another sound adding pianos, organs and steel drums to the mix. This album is full of great riffs and one liners ‘Division is a new world order’ ‘The phenomenon you are about to witness could well revolutionize your way of thinking’.
Life Won’t Wait is quite possibly the most ambitious punk album ever made, recorded all over the world and featuring various guests throughout. Plus the myth that classic punk albums are always under 25 minutes long has been smashed here as this album cloaks in at just under 1 hour and it holds your attention for the whole time. There is something for everyone here, punk, ska, oi!, reggae, rockabilly…it’s all here and all perfected.
NOFX – The Decline (1999)
I had real trouble picking my NOFX choice, two or three albums could easily be in this list. They are my favourite band of all time and it’s mainly the songs that stand out rather than albums if that makes sense. Anyway lets talk about the Decline. The Decline is one song, one song that last 18 minutes. This isn’t the first time a punk song has ventured into prog rock territory in length (see Jello Biafra with DOA, the Subhumans, Flux of Pink Indians and Crass) and NOFX have by far, out of all the other examples used the time to the best of their ability. The riffs are so complex and musically and the band are tight as anything. Smelly’s drumming never seizes to amaze. Fat Mike’s lyrics are incredible and very much in a Jello Biafra influenced rant. Anti-NRA Anti-War Anti-fundamentalist Christian and how they are all connected. It’s so easy to write NOFX off as a joke band, but if anything if a band can take themselves this seriously then write funny songs as well only deserve credit for being so well rounded. As I write this I’m listening to this masterpiece and all my hairs are standing on edge. That’s a great way to know if an album’s good! Fat Mike in my eyes is a genius the way he has crafted this song to change direction so many times. It’s almost like a classical symphony. The next bit comes and you think ‘yes I love this bit!’ This album makes you feel so alive, and so pissed off. Always question your government and question everything.
The Ramones – It’s Alive (Recorded New Years Eve 1977)
How the Ramones didn’t have 20 number one hit singles is a mystery to me. This album changed my life, I first heard the Ramones when I was 12 it was ‘Beat On The Brat’ and I thought it was terrible, but then I kept listening to it more and more and it really grew on me. It’s Alive is so good because the songs have so much energy, it’s Punk Rock’N’Roll in its simplest form. Sometimes the best thing is to keep it simple. Nothing longer than two minutes, no solos, no messing about. The song has finished. NEXT! 1-2-3-4! Then you’ve missed it! Joey Ramone’s voice is stunning; he sings as if he is just singing to you. I am pretty stuck about what to say about the Ramones. They are our Beatles (by ‘our’ I mean punks). Everything that needs to be said has already been said. I just wish I could’ve seen them live. I love the Ramones. The genius of “I don’t wanna go out with you, I don’t wanna walk around with you, I don’t wanna walk around with you, so why d’ya wanna walk around with me? I Don’t Wanna walk around with you” It’s so simple yet says so much. Gabba Gabba Hey I’ll take that to my grave.
Plan B – Who Needs Actions When You’ve Got Words (2006)
I love a great story teller, Tim Armstrong, Johnny Cash and arguably the best of all Plan B. Growing up, my attitudes towards hip hop and rap were a bit immature, then I discovered there was more to this genre than guns, bitches, going on and on about where you’re from and bling. Before I heard this album I was getting into Public Enemy, Sage Francis and Atmosphere. At 18 I was ready to take on Plan B’s debut album and it had an affect on me no other album has. It made me laugh and made me cry and it made me sit back and think FUCK.
Plan B sings as various characters, a vile 14 year old criminal in ‘Kidz’ and various characters with moral indecisions in ‘Dead and Buried’. ‘Tough Love’ can still have the power to make me cry if I get into it, Plan B acts as the narrator in a descriptive tale of Muslim Parents who beat their daughter to death because they found her hidden copy of ‘Bliss’ Magazine ‘What makes this tale even more gory is the fact its based on a true story’ is Plan B’s last line on this track. Tough Love is a huge contrast to ‘Charmane’ – a love song that could’ve been number one until in the last line of the song his friend tells him she is only 14. I found this hilarious and wrong when I first heard it! ‘I Don’t Hate You’ is a great song about Plan B’s biological father, who left when they were kids and was a religious nut “I hate my dad Homer Simpson look-a-like fat bastard!” – well at least you weren’t stuck with Ned Flanders!” This album is so freshlingly original, powerful, funny, harrowing, grim and incredible from start to finish. He will never top this release. The title is true, do you fighting with your pen, write music, write a book, write a letter about how you want to hurt people if you need to then burn it. ‘Whoever said the pen was mightier than the sword was right and you might wanna think twice before stop me to pick a fight.’
Bad Religion – No Control (1989)
I grew up on the Tony Hawks series computer games with the fantastic punk soundtracks and Epitaph Record’s Punk-o-Rama series. Volume 6 was the first I bought, featured a song by Bad Religion called ‘I Wanna Conquer The World’ and Tony Hawks 2 had ‘You’. After already owning a fair few Bad Religion albums and seeing them, I bought this album on Christmas day 2009 and instantly I knew this was by far their best work. Think the Ramones, but on speed and armed with a thesaurus (I pinched that from Kerrang!) Greg Graffin has a really distinctive voice, I’d go as far to say technically he is the best singer in punk. What sets Bad Religion apart from other punk bands are the great vocal harmonies they do, I have no idea how they do it! I love the naïve lyrics of I Wanna Conquer The World, Greg has the best intentions and you get the feeling he is mighty pissed off with the world. This quality always makes the ingredients for a great punk album, that and putting 15 tracks on your album which lasts just over 25 minutes. The riffs are great the drums are tight the vocals are sung with so much intensity and the lyrics deal with a lot of different emotions ‘Anxiety’ and ‘Sanity’ two fine examples of this. If you were to argue that Bad Religion were one of the most influential punk bands ever you could play this cd to anyone who disagreed and they would’nt have a leg to stand on. Released at a time when punk had more or less died out they revived the scene. Thank god for Bad Religion (I didn’t mean to do that, that last bit was a beautiful accident!)
Rancid – Rancid (2000)
I’m not one for including a band twice on things, for example if I’m making a compilation CD for someone I have a very strict one song per band policy, but I just couldn’t leave this masterpiece out from Rancid. Masterpiece in a completely different sense of the word from its predecessor ‘Life Won’t Wait’, Rancid decide to stick to one genre on this album, aggressive fast hardcore punk, making the album even more appealing because it really is nothing like its previous offering. Tim, Matt and Lars share vocal duties pretty evenly. Matt Freeman’s bass playing on this album is astonishing, the best bassist punk has to offer and he could hold his own against the best in the world in all genres. Matt’s Anthem ’Black Derby Jacket’ is one of many favourite moments for me, a song about always being on the road and how important being in a band is. It’s his life. Everything is delivered at a hundred miles an hour, and Tim Armstrong clearly has a beef with someone throughout this album, its great to put on and think about someone you’re pissed off with ‘You’re a rattlesnake, and you’re full of shit, and I hate you, coz you’re a rattle snnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake!’
I even wrote about a song about how perfect the words are to the chorus of Poison, ‘Some people are poison get under your skin like opium, and I stare in their eyes to annoy them, coz they’re poison, yeah they’re poison’.
Like many of the choices in this list, there are hundreds of imitators but only one Ramones, one Plan B, one Nofx, one Dead Kennedys and definitely one Rancid. The beauty of Rancid is that they have released two albums since ‘2000’ and they are different again in style. I want their next offering to have a more country feel to it because they do that well. Anyway this album should be in every self respecting punk’s collection.
Herbert Von Karajan Conducts the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra – Symphonies 4, 5 and 6 composed by Peter llyich Tchaikovsky (No. 4 recorded 1967, composed 1878. No. 5 recorded 1966, composed 1888. No. 6 recorded 1964, composed 1893)
I could’ve easily done a top twenty pieces from classical repertoire and it would’ve included Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Mahler, Bartok, Beethoven and Saint-Saens amongst others. These 3 symphonies, between 40 – 50 minutes long each are nothing short of breath taking. To hear an orchestra of 90 plus players all getting into the music is a different listening experience to anything I have listed above. Tchaikovsky was a tortured soul, he was a homosexual in a time it was unheard of and it’s likely he committed suicide because of this. His death is still a mystery today. A year before he died he composed his 6th symphony. The last movement is constructed so beautifully and it has had the power of making me cry before, the string section opening sounds like someone weeping and screaming out to be heard I have never heard anything like it. It sounds like a suicide note. So thought provoking in tearful. The finale of the 4th Symphony is a pure rush of blood to the head, technically the music is virtuosic and exciting. The brass fanfares pin your ears back to the wall. There is a myth that you have to really understand the way classical music is constructed in order to enjoy it, I don’t believe this to be true. There is also a thousand years worth of music and hundreds of different genres. For me these great symphonies are a great place to start.