It’s Stephen Pennell’s turn to be stranded.
I humbly offer my selection for your reading (and listening) pleasure. By the way, if there was ever a time when the idea of being marooned on a desert island has been more attractive, I must have missed it.
The Twang – If Confronted Just Go Mad.
When I fell in love with The Twang, I fell backwards. I had a copy of their first album, Love It When It Feels Like This, over a decade ago, but I didn’t bother listening before I gave it back. As a consequence, I had remained blissfully ignorant of that brilliant debut and the rest of their mighty canon until last year.
That changed when I met singer Phil Etheridge at a Swim Deep gig. He struck me as refreshingly normal, a very humble and affable bloke. I enthused about their then-new song Every Time and he told me a bit about the soon-to-be-released album which spawned it. I bought it a few months later and felt like I did when I caught a random episode from season five of The Sopranos – utterly compelled to go back to the beginning to find out how we got here. What followed was a real voyage of discovery – vibrant verses, singalong choruses, sophisticated and poetic lyrics; often humorous, but also brutally honest.
The songs were stories in which you often recognised yourself, and it wasn’t always a complimentary revelation. Adult relationships were explored in depth; joy, desire, regret, despair, hope – you name it, it was in there – and throughout the years the music had stayed as fresh as any debut album. All those aspects combine perfectly on their latest record; it’s just perfect from start to finish. Their debut was a smash hit, 10:20 was mean, moody and magnificent, and Jewellery Quarter is the best ever to be named after a Birmingham suburb*, but out of all of them, If Confronted Just Go Mad is the Twang album I keep on coming back to.
*Apologies to Steel Pulse and Ocean Colour Scene.
Peace – Kindness Is The New Rock And Roll.
Another band who get better with age. Harry Koisser’s lyrical genius was always there, but on this, their third album, he addresses subject matter that really matters, like domestic abuse, mental health issues and environmental concerns. The title track is an anthem for the age; Silverlined is quite possibly my favourite song of all time, and Francis Bean Cobain hailed lead single From Under Liquid Glass as the song of the decade. I admire her taste.
AffieJam – TBC
When I first met my beautiful wife Kerri, certain circumstances conspired to keep us apart, and although we were only on opposite sides of a city, we conducted most of our fledgling relationship via all-night phone calls from my land-line to her mobile. This sultry paean to long-distance love always brings back happy memories of those times, plus one unhappy one – a £950 phone bill.
“Even though we’re sitting miles apart/making jokes laughing hard in the dark/you orchestrate every beat of my heart”. Lovely.
It’s only available on Affie’s soundcloud page, and if there’s no wi-fi in paradise, I’ll get in the sea.
The Jam – All Mod Cons
It’s all subjective of course, but for me Paul Weller is the greatest British songwriter of all time. There may be a few who can write love songs as gorgeous and delicate as English Rose and Fly, and a few who can write visceral epics like Mr Clean, ‘A’ Bomb In Wardour Street and Down In The Tubestation at Midnight. But has anyone else done both by the age of twenty and kept it up for the next forty-odd years?
Namiwa Jazz – My Garden Of Eden.
Only a three track EP, but as it contains three of my favourite songs ever – The Beautiful One, F*** The Media and Jungle, it has to come with me. The EP combines searing social commentary and heart-rending emotional depth, taking the listener on a journey of infectious beats, evocative imagery and mesmerising melody to a truly joyous place. I’d hate to have to live without it.
The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come For Free.
A concept album that follows the trials and tribulations of a diamond geezer and a bit of cash he managed to save up. A witty and touching variation on the age-old theme of ‘boy meets girl/boy loses girl’, with a bit of ‘boy loses money/boy finds money’ thrown in. You’ve probably heard the hits – Blinded By The Lights, Fit But You Know It, Dry Your Eyes – but you’ll have to listen to the whole album to know how great those songs are in context. A good -humoured and relatable listen that can double up as a kitchen-sink drama if there’s no DVD player on Pennell Island.
Call Me Unique – Urban Gypsy
This was the record that, more than any other, woke me up to the phenomenal group of talented black female artists that help make the live music scene in Birmingham so enthralling. Hearing a recording of her performing it live at Cherry Reds in John Bright Street was a life-changing moment for me. Stranger, Here, Bombs and Wars, Sholow and the title track, all brilliant, all deeply affecting. A seminal record. She’s still got it and she still flaunts it at regular live shows in Brum when lockdown permits.
Lady Sanity – Lying In Truth
Sanity has been great from day but somehow keeps improving, and she’s really surpassed herself on this long player (it’s only seven tracks but so was Astral Weeks). Her lyrics are motivational, political and inspiring, especially on the best track, BBT (Big Black Truth – I’ll leave it to you work out what the opposite of that is). Time And Space, Trappin’ and Noise are three more examples of the Erdington MC’s wonderful wordplay and wisdom, and Lady Leshurr need look no further for her first signing if and when the record label she’s been talking about gets up and running.
There are MCs who put their bars in the comments section of their YouTube videos who really shouldn’t, and there are those who don’t who really, really should. Lady Sanity is not just in the latter group, she’s the CEO of it. If people in this country had the brains they were born with – debatable when you look at the last few elections and referendums – she’d be the biggest and most important rapper in Britain.
My book would be Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch, which Quentin Tarantino made into my favourite film Jackie Brown, and my luxury item would be my wife… we’re still an item (thank God) and she is the very definition of luxury.